A series of exercises have recently demonstrated the significant progress of the Shandong, a prominent aircraft carrier of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy.

According to Chinese experts, these developments could pave the way for the carrier to conduct its second major sea voyage beyond the “first island chain” soon. The Shandong conducted combat-oriented training in an undisclosed marine area in mid-summer, aiming to test its comprehensive combat capabilities, the PLA Navy said in a press release on Friday. The press release noted that the Shandong met high combat-oriented standards and achieved remarkable improvements in aircraft sorties, training difficulty, and mission intensity.

A video accompanying the press release showed that the Shandong was supported by several other warships in the carrier combat group, including a Type 055 large destroyer, two Type 052D destroyers, two Type 054A frigates, and a Type 901 comprehensive replenishment ship. The Shandong’s flight deck hosted various aircraft during the exercise, such as J-15 fighter jets, Z-8 helicopters, and Z-18 helicopters. As part of the training, three squadrons of three J-15s each flew over the aircraft carrier. The J-15 fighter jets also performed nighttime takeoff and landing exercises on the Shandong.

In April, the Shandong embarked on its first far sea exercise in the West Pacific since its commissioning in December 2019. This exercise involved the carrier participating in combat alert patrols and “Joint Sword” exercises around Taiwan, reaching waters about 600 to 700 kilometers west of Guam before returning via the Bashi Channel into the South China Sea, according to public reports.

According to press releases from Japan’s Defense Ministry Joint Staff, the Shandong facilitated about 620 aircraft sorties in the 18-day exercise, breaking the record previously set by the aircraft carrier Liaoning of about 320 aircraft sorties in 15 days. A Chinese military expert, who requested anonymity, told the Global Times that the Shandong likely broke this record again in its latest exercise, as the PLA Navy’s statement said that the Shandong achieved new milestones. The expert also stressed that each exercise will further improve the Shandong’s combat capabilities.

In recent years, China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has usually conducted two far sea exercises every year in the West Pacific. Now, with the Shandong reaching full operational capability, it is expected that it might conduct two or more voyages beyond the “first island chain” within this year, the expert added.