China has begun flight training on its first aircraft carrier, with photographs posted on websites Monday showing navy pilots practicing touch-and-go landing exercises.
Military enthusiast websites posted pictures of a J-15 fighter-bomber executing the maneuver, in which the plane makes brief contact with the flight deck before flying on. It wasn't clear when the pictures were taken, and they did not appear on the Defense Ministry's website or in official media.
The exercises are the latest move to provide a combat capability for the carrier, which was launched last month without aircraft or an accompanying battle group. The next step would be the launching and recovery of aircraft, a much trickier process that may be years away.
Chinese-produced Z-8 helicopters have also been practicing take-offs and landings on the carrier. Both aircraft are based on Russian and French designs. Chinese pilots are believed to have been practicing carrier operations on mock flight decks located inland.
The carrier is the former Soviet navy's unfinished Varyag, which was towed from Ukraine in 1998 minus its engines, weaponry and navigation systems. Christened the Liaoning, the province where its home port is located, the ship began sea trials in August 2011 following years of refurbishment.
The carrier's launch underscores China's ambitions to be a leading Asian naval power amid sharpening conflicts with its neighbors over disputed island chains in the South China and East China Seas.
Beijing hasn't said what exact role it intends the carrier to fill other than helping safeguard China's coastline and sea links. The Liaoning has also been portrayed as a kind of test platform for the future development of domestically built Chinese carriers.