Hagel Visits Chinese Aircraft Carrier Liaoning
Hagel Visits Chinese
Aircraft Carrier Liaoning (1)
By Cheryl Pellerin, American
Forces Press Service.
Qingdao, China – (AFPS)
– April 7, 2014 – On Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s first official visit to
China, the Peoples’ Liberation Army allowed him, in response to a request made
in January, to become the first foreign visitor to tour the sleek refitted
Russian aircraft carrier -- the PLA’s first -- called Liaoning.
China is Hagel’s third stop after multiday meetings in Hawaii
and Japan on his fourth trip to the Asia-Pacific region since becoming defense
secretary. After a day of meetings here tomorrow, Hagel will stop in Mongolia to
meet with government and military leaders there before starting home April 10.
Liaoning is moored at Yuchi Naval Base in its home port of Qingdao in east
China’s Shandong province. "The secretary was very pleased with his visit today
aboard the carrier Liaoning,” Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby
said in a statement.
Hagel understood the significance of the PLA’s granting of
his request for the tour, Kirby added, and the secretary was impressed by the
professionalism of the ship’s officers and crew. “He hopes today's visit is a
harbinger of other opportunities to improve our military-to-military dialogue
and transparency,” the press secretary said.
A defense official traveling with the secretary described the
ship’s tour as lasting about two hours, beginning with a briefing about the ship,
its capabilities and operating schedule conducted by the two-star strike carrier
group commander and the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Zhang Zheng.
The briefers were good, and they invited and encouraged
questions, the official said. Hagel and his guest, U.S. Ambassador to China Max
Baucus, and others on the tour all asked questions, the official added. “The
briefing lasted about 30 minutes, and then we saw medical facilities on the ship,
some of the living quarters, the flight control station where they control
flight operations, the pilot house, and the bridge, where they drive the ship,”
the defense official said.
The secretary and his group also took a walking tour of the
flight deck and saw launch stations and helicopter recovery stations as well
arresting cables, “and got a briefing on how what we call in the U.S. Navy the
‘landing signals officers’ guide the aircraft in for an arrested landing on the
flight deck,” the official explained.
He said the ship was extraordinarily clean, and the crew was
sharp and informative. ”Every sailor at every station where Hagel [stopped] for
the tour knew exactly what their job was, and how important their job was, and
exactly how to explain it to the secretary,” the official said.
Hagel had a lot of give-and-take discussions with the crew
throughout the tour, and talked to them just as he talks to U.S. troops when he
goes out to visit them, the defense official added. “The tour ended with a stop
in the officers’ dining area, where Hagel had a chance to sit down with junior
officers, have some refreshments and just talk to them,” the official said. “We
all did. I sat down at a table with two junior female officers, and everybody
did the same thing.”
The crew members were very impressive and very dedicated, he
observed. “It's a new capability they're trying to develop, and I think they all
appreciate the importance of it to the PLA, but also the difficulty of it,” the
official said. “On more than one occasion, the officers who were with us said
quite frankly they know they have a long way to go in naval aviation. It is a
difficult military capability to develop and to perfect, … and they expressed
that they believe they can still learn much from us in terms of how to get
better at it.”
The ship has three launching stations for jet aircraft, four
arresting wires, a complement of about 1,500 sailors, one sixth of whom are
officers, and there were 90 women in the crew, both officers and enlisted
service members, the defense official said.
Liaoning has been out on sea trials almost 20 times, and
officials know they still have to do more, he added.
Compared with U.S. aircraft carriers, Laioning isn’t as big
or fast, and it doesn’t carry as many aircraft or as many types of aircraft, the
official said, but it’s a real aircraft carrier, capable of launching and
recovering jet combat aircraft. “We asked them when they would have an
operational naval air wing on the ship, and the captain said there's no timeline
for that right now,” the official said. “They aren't at the state where they're
declaring that sort of operational readiness.”
The defense official said the opportunity for Hagel and his
group to tour the aircraft carrier today was a significant step in China’s
attempts to be transparent and open. “I would say that as this trip to Beijing
begins for the secretary, today was a good first step in terms of trying to
develop more openness and transparency,” the defense official said.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on
Twitter: @PellerinAFPS) :
Special Report: Travels with Hagel
Photo Essay: Hagel Visits China, Meets With Leaders