The Shandong, China's first domestically developed aircraft carrier, the second in all, recently embarked on its third voyage of the year, after it was declared to have completed regular testing and training missions in late October.
The voyage could feature combat-intensive exercises featuring fighter jets and other warships, and the carrier could return to the South China Sea, where its home port is located, analysts said on Monday.
The Shandong left the Dalian Shipyard in Northeast China's Liaoning Province on Saturday, Hong Kong-based newspaper Ta Kung Pao reported on Monday.
Coinciding with the date of the carrier's voyage, a navigation restriction notice released by Dalian's Maritime Safety Administration on Friday said that military exercises are scheduled from Saturday to December 6 in the northern part of the Yellow Sea.
This is the third time the aircraft carrier has set out for missions in 2020. The first training was reportedly held in the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea from May 25 to June 17, and the second took place in the Bohai Sea from September 1 to 22.
For its latest sortie, the Shandong will likely conduct training with carrier-based fighter jets and the use of weapons, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Monday.
It could also team up with a combat group to practice coordinating with other warships like destroyers and frigates, Song said.
Citing Senior Captain Lai Yijun, the captain of the Shandong, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on October 27 that the aircraft carrier has completed regular tests and training missions at sea that focused on simulated combat after entering service with the Chinese Navy in December 2019, and the tests and training included aviation support, damage control and emergency response.
After undergoing training and tests, and gaining a certain level of combat capability, the carrier could head south after the exercises and prepare to play its role as a stabilizer in the South China Sea, the Ta Kung Pao report quoted analysts as saying.
Since the commissioning ceremony of the Shandong was held in a naval base in Sanya, South China's Hainan Province in December 2019, military observers believe that Sanya, on the doorstep of the South China Sea, is the carrier's home port.
Despite the Shandong remaining in the Dalian Shipyard for most of the time this year, military observers said that it is only a matter of time before the carrier returns to the South China Sea.
Based on its actual use, the warship could also return to the Dalian Shipyard again for maintenance when necessary, Song said.
When the aircraft carrier made the round trip between the Dalian Shipyard and the naval base in Sanya in late 2019 for its commissioning ceremony, it sailed through the Taiwan Straits twice.
Experts said that the warship will pass through the Straits often, and such transits will likely become routine as the carrier commutes between its shipyard and base with this shortest path.