Chinese naval forces have carried out live-fire drills in Bohai Sea close to the Korean peninsula as Beijing turns more assertive in expanding its military footprint in the region. For the first time, J-15 fighters were shown launching missiles during the exercises.

China's Soviet-built Liaoning aircraft carrier participated in the drill with several projectiles being fired-off. A dozen other ships, aircraft and missiles of various strike ranges were part of the event.

Images of the high-profile naval exercises were broadcast by state-backed China Central Television (CCTV) late on Thursday, 15 December. "This is the first time an aircraft carrier squadron has performed drills with live ammunition and real troops," said CCTV in its report.

Rear Admiral Chen Yueqi, the commander of the Liaoning carrier battle group, was quoted as saying: "It enabled us to explore how to organise a carrier battle group exercise and to test the training levels of our sailors and pilots. It can also boost the battle group's efforts to become combat ready as early as possible." The J-15 struck multiple targets using air-to-air and anti-ship missiles during the manoeuvres.

The official news outlet Xinhua said Liaoning, along with several other destroyers and frigates, conducted "reconnaissance and early warning systems, air interception, sea assault, air-defense and anti-missile exercises". Liaoning was declared combat-ready only in November after an extensive refurbishment of the vessel.

News of the live-fire drills emerged a day after a US think tank released satellite images of China deploying anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons systems in the disputed South China Sea islands. Defending the move, China's defence ministry said: "As for necessary military installations, they are mainly for defence and self-protection and are legitimate and lawful. If someone makes a show of force at your front door, would you not ready your slingshot?"

China live-fire drills
For the first time the J-15 fighters were shown launching missiles Reuters