China announced Tuesday that the country's first aircraft carrier was ready to engage in combat. The progress comes as a milestone for Beijing as it is working toward expanding its ability to project power far from China's shores.
The state-run Global Times said the aircraft carrier Liaoning, named after its Chinese home province, has “formally been described as having a real combat capacity.” Li Dongyou, the Liaoning’s political commissar, was quoted as saying that the ship is "constantly prepared for war."
"As a military force, we are always prepared for war and our combat capacity also needs to be tested by war ... At this moment, we are doing our best to promote our strength and use it to prevent war, and are prepared for actual combat at any time," Li reportedly said.
Liaoning, a 60,000-ton vessel, was purchased from Ukraine in 1998 as an incomplete Soviet Navy hull. The vessel was formally commissioned to be completed in 2012.
"Although its overall capability is hindered by its comparatively inefficient power plant and underpowered aircraft-launching system, the Liaoning represents an important step in advancing China’s ability to project naval power," China Power, the blog for the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, explained while analyzing the vessel.
While it's unclear as to how China intends to use the Liaoning, it is seen as helping reinforce Beijing's increasingly assertive claims in the South China Sea in the face of challenges from the U.S. Navy and others.
Li said Liaoning's combat capabilities are still behind U.S. carriers, but its training and maintenance operations have been praised by senior Pentagon officials. U.S. officials had reportedly visited the vessel during military exchanges.