Liaoning and its exercises with its escort group are a gradual Chinese weapons system project. China recognises that building superior aircraft carriers is more a long-term (15+ year) goal. A complimentary project is airbase island building in the South China Sea. Also useful to China would be a developed aerial refueling capability for carrier aircraft and land-based aircraft (currently very limited).
- Liaoning is likely to be of little use in "liberating" Taiwan operations as missiles and aircraft on the Chinese mainland are already in easy range of Taiwan. Liaoning would also be highly vulnerable to Taiwanese anti-ship missiles and possibly torpedos
- large aircraft carriers are potent symbols of emerging China’s status as a great power and eventual superpower. More specifically Liaoning is useful in ship visits to:
range missions would also help Liaoning develop its group logistics-replenishment procedures
and iron-out any propulsion breakdowns
other island nations,
= to regional countries and arms customers, eg, the Philippines, Malaysia. Thailand might be
possible in August or later in 2017. This is for a proposed "International Fleet Review Thailand
2017" Thailand's 11,500 ton carrier is featured in this fleet review "trailer"
- for regional disaster-humanitarian missions and evacuation of Chinese nationals. Liaoning can provide many resources including a squadron of medium-large helicopters, accommodation for many, and medical facilities
- To service a rare alliance a visit to Karachi, Pakistan in 2019 may be enticing?
- 2019 or later an operational mission as a command/helicopter carrier on anti-drug, anti-piracy duties my be possible off the Horn of Africa. This may tie in with China's development of its new regional administrative and naval base at Djibouti (where thousands of Chinese military and civilians will serve).
- the followon ski-jump carrier to Liaoning may be the first used for counter-insurgency/terrorism airstrikes from the Mediterranean if the Syrian conflict continues. Such airstrikes from "floating airbases" are the standard function of US carriers and Charles de Gaulle.
A followon ski-jump carrier or two and then a catapult carrier are likely to be the next evolutionary stages in China's carrier program.
Josh indicated here: "The Liaoning's primary uses as I see it are gathering operational experience, projecting power into low/no threat areas, and diplomatic coercion of lesser regional powers (ie, Not the US, Oz, ROK, or Japan). Again those powers she likely is more of a liability and a target than an offensive asset."
MHalblaub indicated at 17/1/17 11:32 PM: "The Liaoning is a training vessel for China. Unlike other nations China has the capability to build nuclear powered aircraft carriers. China will notice the deficiencies and build a proper carrier on its own with catapults. At the moment China is building some very large aircraft carriers in the South China Sea. A type called island and very hard to sink by a submarine."
I found comment the American who may be the No.1 public naval analyst. He is Ronald O'Rourke, Specialist in Naval Affairs, Congressional Research Service (CRS) . In China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress, June 17, 2016, CRS 7-5700 www.crs.gov RL33153 https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33153.pdf (PDF around 10 MB) O'Rourke writes several pages (19 to 26) of comment on China's aircraft carrier and carrier aircraft aspirations. Pages 23 to 25 are strong on Liaoning's uses.