Given that Russia and China are drawing closer geopolitically, it is possible that Beijing would entertain the idea of allowing the Kremlin’s naval aviators to train onboard Liaoning.
With Russia’s sole remaining aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov entering into dry dock for an extend period of repairs and overhaul this year, Moscow’s naval aviators will not have a vessel available to train onboard.
Naval aviation—especially the art of landing on a real carrier at sea—is a perishable skill, which the Russian Navy might lose if it does not find an alternative ship to train onboard until 2021 or 2022 when Kuznetsov is officially expected to return to the fleet. The Kremlin hopes that shore-based training at the Ground-Based Test-Training Aviation Complex (NITKA), which is located in Novofedorovka on the Crimean peninsula, will help to retain the skills of their naval aviators. However, the Russians seem to be aware that such training is no substitute for being onboard a real carrier at sea.
“If they don’t takeoff from an actual aircraft carrier deck even once for another five years—any flying skills of the unique Russian carrier-pilots will crumble to dust, either with the NITKA simulator or without it,” writes Svobodnaya Pressa defense correspondent Vladimir Tuchkov in a recent Russian language column.