The ongoing trials of China’s first aircraft carrier and her ship-based jet fighters represents a major leap-ahead in capability for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). But the hype surrounding Lioaning‘s debut test cruise last summer and the inaugural landing of her J-15 fighters in late November masks an important truth, one the world’s other carrier powers have long known.
Developing a flattop and its planes is hard, requiring years of trial and error and no small amount of risk. And while China’s ascent as a naval power might seem unstoppable, the saga of China’s first seagoing fighter pilots proves otherwise. A lot of things can, have and will go wrong, casting into doubt whether Beijing will possess a truly useful carrier capability any time soon.