China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, will be deployed on preliminary trial on the high seas this year before acquiring full combat capability within two years time.
The 990ft Liaoning, named after the province where it was refitted, is likely to have its preliminary trial on the high seas this year, a necessary step before it possesses full combat capability, said ship commander-in-chief Zhang Yongyi.
"Before every aircraft carrier truly matures and becomes capable of fighting in a war, it must go through trials on the high seas," Zhang, who is also a deputy to the National People's Congress, said.
The ship is currently anchored at its homeport in Qingdao in China's eastern Shandong Province.
The Liaoning, formerly known as the Varyag, is a refurbished Soviet ship purchased from Ukraine. It was constructed in the 1980s for the Soviet navy but was never completed.
It is the first time for the aircraft carrier to anchor at its homeport, meaning that the base for aircraft carrier in Qingdao is operational after four years of construction, Pople's Liberation Army Navy said in a statement.
On Saturday, the carrier moved from China's northern port of Dalian, where it was retrofitted and later commissioned, to the port of Qingdao. Prior to that, Liaoning had undergone 12 sea trials.
Carrier-based fighters also completed take-off and landing tests on Liaoning late last year.
A trial on the high seas is much tougher than Liaoning's previous tests, because it requires the carrier to be fully independent of on-shore protection, said Lan Yun, editor of Modern Ships, a magazine run by a research institute related to the shipbuilding industry.
"During past trials, if an accident happened, on-shore experts could immediately help out because the vessel was not too far away," Lan told state run Global Times. "But on the high seas, crew members must solve the problem themselves."
Liaoning had travelled hundreds of kilometres away from China's coast before. But this time, Lan said, it may have to reach waters near Japan's Okinawa Islands and even Guam, both located more than 1,000km away from Qingdao. Such trials often require a vessel to remain at sea for one to three months, he said.
If Liaoning's first high seas trial is successful, many more will follow, Lan said. That means the vessel may take another two years before reaching its full fighting capacity.
Based on Liaoning's success, China, which this year allocated USD 115.7 billion military budget, is expected to construct more carriers to emerge as a major maritime power.