China's aircraft carrier-based helicopter pilots are well-trained for search and rescue missions during both day and night in case a fighter jet fails to land properly on the flight deck, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) newspaper reported on Wednesday, as a Chinese military expert said that supportive roles like this indicate the Chinese aircraft carrier's increasing capability.
The aircraft carrier Liaoning-based helicopter regiment has recently explored performing both day and night operations, which is a key breakthrough in the Chinese aircraft carrier's search and rescue capability and makes it the first helicopter regiment in the PLA capable of undertaking such missions, the PLA Daily reported on Wednesday.
This is also the first time the regiment is being introduced to the public since its establishment in October 2017, the report said.
The flight deck on the Liaoning is only about one-tenth of the length of a land-based airstrip and is constantly moving, the newspaper said, noting that a fighter jet must land between the four arresting cables on the deck - a mere 36-meter-long target - or the landing may end in accident.
To save the pilot in case the fighter jet crashes into the sea, a search and rescue mission by helicopter is the last resort, the report said, dubbing the helicopter as "the fifth arresting cable."
Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Global Times on Thursday that the helicopter's operations bring strong support to the aircraft carrier's combat effectiveness by minimizing accident-related losses.
Combat missions should be based on the safety of the vessel itself, Li said, noting that search and rescue must go in tandem with naval operations. In September, the PLA announced that the J-15 aircraft carrier-based fighter jet is now capable of takeoff and landing at night.
Military experts said it is even more dangerous for fighter jets to land on an aircraft carrier at night because of the dim runway lights.
Aircraft carrier-based helicopters must follow up in case of an accident at night despite facing difficulties such as the lack of object of reference, the PLA Daily said, calling the task a worldwide challenge.
Li said "It can be dangerous at night because it is difficult to tell where the sky ends and where the sea begins." The naked eyes cannot do too much on the sea at night, so rescuers must rely on technology, Li noted.
The regiment has successfully created a practical operation method through innovation and trials, the PLA Daily reported.