Satellite imagery provided by Airbus Defence and Space has confirmed media reports that Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning recently undertook a four-month maintenance period in the Dalian shipyard, which refurbished the ship after its acquisition from Ukraine.
The Kuznetsov (Orel) (Project 1143.5/6)-class carrier, which completed its first sea trials in the South China Sea in January, was shown alongside at Dalian in 26 July imagery. The absence of markings shows that the flight deck had been repainted, but no other maintenance work is visible.
The flight deck surface has been stripped and repainted at least once before, following Liaoning ‘s first sea trials in August 2011.
The images of the Dalian shipyard throw up a number of interesting issues. One is the presence of a Shenyang J-15 combat aircraft mockup in a ship assembly area next to the dry dock where Liaoning underwent maintenance. This may be the calibration model that made an appearance on the carrier’s flight deck in early 2012 and it could be there as part of the maintenance programme that Liaoning was undergoing when the July 2014 images were taken.
The alternative is that the mockup is part of China’s future carrier programme, although this seems unlikely as there are no signs of carrier construction at the Dalian shipyard. In January 2014 a senior Chinese Communist Party official from Dalian was reported as saying that the city could build a second carrier in “six years” and also claimed that China would eventually acquire four aircraft carriers.