China's first aircraft carrier 'preparing for first long distance mission' China's first aircraft carrier could make its maiden long distance journey "within the year", state media has announced in a further indication of the country's growing military clout. The 990ft Liaoning carrier â€“ which was formally brought into service last September â€“ is now preparing for its first major outing, CCTV reported. "A big country cannot do without aircraft carriers," said Zhang Zheng, the carrier's captain, whose first encounter with an aircraft carrier came in Portsmouth, in 2002. The Liaoning is a former Soviet carrier that was reportedly purchased from Ukraine in 1999 before being refitted at a naval base in northeast China. In March, a Chinese shipping expert, Lan Yun, told state media its first major voyage could take between one and three months and see the Liaoning reach "waters near Japan's Okinawa islands and even Guam". The high-profile announcement came in a series of reports about the aircraft carrier, timed to coincide with the 64th anniversary of China's navy next Tuesday. "The navy has to protect the security of the country and its economic interests," the China Daily reported in a front-page article headlined: "China's ocean-going giant." Carriers made "a huge difference to the military capabilities of the countries that had them," the newspaper added, pointing to the Royal Navy's HMS Argus which became the first fully-functional vessel of its type in 1918. Liu Zhigang, a first officer on the carrier, told the newspaper the carrier could "serve as a guide for the transformation of the Chinese navy, from coastal defence to greater responsibilities in deep oceans." "The Chinese navy needs to reach every place that other countries can reach to support the country's growth. The navy has to be able to compete with any naval force from any country in any area," he said. "We can refit an aircraft carrier and be fully combat-capable much faster than most experts expected." Beijing's apparent determination to extend its control over the seas with a "blue-water force" comes at a time of increasingly acrimonious maritime disputes with neighbouring countries such as Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam. China has also expressed public concern over the United States' "pivot" to Asia, which Beijing views as a direct threat to the country's rise. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for China's defence ministry said the US' growing presence in the region was "not conducive to the upholding of peace and stability". Reports suggest China is currently developing at least two "home-grown" aircraft carriers and is now moving ahead with plans to build nuclear-powered carriers. Last year, the country's annual defence budget grew to over Â£65bn, making it the world's second largest. China's first aircraft carrier 'preparing for first long distance mission' - Telegraph ****************************** The carrier could "serve as a guide for the transformation of the Chinese navy, from coastal defence to greater responsibilities in deep oceans" and ' Liaoning reach "waters near Japan's Okinawa islands and even Guam' is an indicator that China will aggressively claim the SCS and the US Navy beware that China's reach will Guam and beyond!