After nearly two years of frequent trips to sea for training and testing, China’s first aircraft carrier (the Liaoning) has entered the shipyard for at least six months of maintenance and modifications. All this time at sea apparently produced a long list of things needing to be fixed, modified or replaced. Thus the long trip to the shipyard.
Liaoning completed its sea trials on January 1st after it returned to base with its escort group after 37 days at sea. This came 16 months after Liaoning was commissioned (accepted into service by the navy) in September 2012. At that time China announced that there would be more sea trials before Liaoning was ready for regular service. Before commissioning Liaoning had performed well during over a year of pre-commissioning sea trials. During that time Liaoning went to sea ten times. The longest trip was two weeks. All this was mainly to see if the ship was able to function reliably at sea. After commissioning Liaoning carried out months of additional trials and preparations for the first flight operations, which took place in late 2012.
In 2011 China confirmed that the Liaoning will primarily be a training carrier. The Chinese apparently plan to station up to 24 jet fighters and 26 helicopters on the Liaoning. But the carrier will also be used to train Chinese officers and sailors to operate as a carrier task force as the Americans and some other Western navies have been doing for over 80 years. That led to the formation of the first Chinese carrier task force in late 2013. This was essential because a carrier needs escorts. For Liaoning this consisted of two Type 051C destroyers and two Type 054A frigates plus a supply ship. All this is similar to what the U.S. has long used, which is currently 3-4 destroyers, 1-2 frigates, an SSN (nuclear submarine), and a supply ship. Chinese SSNs are few and not very good, which is why China probably has not assigned one to their escort group.