There are some concerns that CV-16 was sent there for political purposes to intimidate neigbhouring countries. I personally think that's wildly inaccurate. As I talked about in the previous entry on 091, No. 404 (the first production version of Type 091) was sent to South China Sea for testing at PLAN's deep water testing facility in Hainan. It should not be a surprise that China's first carrier would spend time here given how little space it has to operate around the Qingdao naval base. One of well known posters on Chinese military forum recently posted the following list of uncompleted tests that will need to be carried through this time.
- Temperature related tests - Due to the colder temperature of north, certain tests that require hot climate (like air conditioning systems and refrigeration equipments) can only be completed in South China Sea at this time of the year. All of this will happen in the relatively high water temperature of South China Sea, which cannot be replicated around Qingdao.
- Deep water tests - The Bohai sea shelf around Qingdao is generally pretty shallow. South China Sea has long stretches of water depths of greater than 100 m (several hundreds of meters in many cases). ASW tests, especially against deep diving submarines, can really only be carried out here. Other tests including under water communications, acoustic countermeasures testing and deep water anchor testings,
- Testing command & control - As part of having 2 051C and 054A in this sea trial, CV-16 will be able to test the command & control systems leading a flotilla formation. More C&C tests can be completed in South China Sea given the concentration of new combat aircraft and naval ships in the area (including the nuclear submarines stationed at Sanya naval base). He also listed that 054As are part of the flotilla due to their strong ASW suites, which is important given the number of foreign submarines that will be looking to gather CV-16 acoustic signatures. I tend to that's a lost cause.
- Testing the new Carrier base - There is a new carrier base being constructed in South China Sea. Having this flotilla there will test out the ability of the new naval base to support a carrier group.
So there are a number of tests that will need to be carried out this time. In the long term, there will be probably multiple carriers home based in the carrier base in South China Sea. After all, there is far more room to operate there than around Qingdao. I think this will be the first of many trips that CV-16 makes to South China Sea until SSF gets its own carrier.