China says carrier group reaches 'initial' combat capability

Just a week after the Pentagon disinvited China from military exercises because of its “militarization” of the South China Sea area, the Communist country announced the carrier group led by its first aircraft carrier had reached "initial systematic combat capability."

The aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is a refurbished Soviet-era aircraft carrier purchased from Ukraine that went through eight years of retrofitting, according to China Global Television Network.

It is the latest show of military muscle by the country, which has ignored the U.S.’ pleas to leave the disputed islands on the South China Sea alone.

Since the Liaoning was commissioned in 2012, it has gone through exercises that have "effectively tested the building and maintenance of the formation's comprehensive attack and defense systems," China's National Defense Ministry spokesperson Ren Guoqiang told state television.

The ship is conventionally powered by steam turbines, according to CGTN, and is capable of carrying different types of aircraft, including the J-15 fighters, as well as surveillance and anti-submarine helicopters.

China's aircraft carrier Liaoning takes part in a military drill of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in the western Pacific Ocean, April 18, 2018.

China's aircraft carrier Liaoning takes part in a military drill of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in the western Pacific Ocean, April 18, 2018. (REUTERS)

Military officials told state television it is also carries anti-air missiles and anti-torpedo systems.

The Liaoning has been part of high-profile missions recently, including sailing into the South China Sea area.

“The carrier group’s exercises have been deepened to include combat operations in the open seas. It has initially formed a system combat capability,” Ren said in a monthly news briefing, according to Reuters.

CHINA'S FIRST DOMESTICALLY-MADE AIRCRAFT CARRIER BEGINS SEA TRIALS

Little is known about China’s aircraft program which is a state secret, but the country recently began sea trials of its first domestically-produced aircraft carrier that has yet to be named.

Chinese military experts have told state media the new carrier, built in the northeastern port of Dalian, is not expected to enter service until 2020, once it has been fully fitted and armed.

The new carrier is based on the former Soviet Union's Kuznetsov class design, with a ski jump-style deck for taking off and a conventional oil-fueled steam turbine power plant.

State media has reported China is also planning to build a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier capable of remaining at sea for long durations.

China's first domestically developed aircraft carrier is seen at a port on May 18, 2018, in Dalian after completing its first sea trials, in Liaoning province, China May 18, 2018.

China's first domestically developed aircraft carrier is seen at a port on May 18, 2018, in Dalian after completing its first sea trials, in Liaoning province, China May 18, 2018. (REUTERS/Stringer)

China has the world’s largest navy in terms of numbers of ships, although it lags behind the U.S. in technology and combat capabilities.

The U. S. Navy has 11 aircraft carriers currently in operation while China only has one.

The country has used its naval fleet to stake claim to virtually the entire South China Sea and to range farther into the Pacific and Indian oceans – a provocative move that has heightened tensions with the U.S. Last Wednesday, the Pentagon said it was disinviting China from the Rim of the Pacific Exercises following reports the country was again secretly beefing up its military operation.

Earlier this week, China's military blasted the U.S. after two U.S. Navy warships sailed near South China Sea islands claimed by China after Beijing landed a nuclear-capable bomber and deployed missiles there.

Wu Qian, spokesperson Ministry of National Defense, said the "provocative action" was a "serious infringement" on China's sovereignty.

Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.