The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C., has posted online a new assessment of China's aircraft carrier, including a 3-D interactive graphic of the Liaoning warship.
The research provides a side-by-side look at the carrier with those from the U.S., India and Japan.
In terms of combat capability, the Liaoning also comes up short next to, say, the USS Ronald Reagan, according to CSIS. The Liaoning’s air wing consists of 24 Shenyang J-15 multirole fighters, which are Chinese variants of Russia's fourth-gen Sukhoi Su-33, while the Reagan carries 55 fixed wing aircraft, including the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet, in addition to more than 30 rotary aircraft, according to the organization.
In a taped question-and-answer session, Professor Andrew Erickson of the Naval War College's China Maritime Studies Institute said there is a wide range of contingencies -- not involving combat -- for which China might be expected to utilize its carrier.
"There is significant potential in the near future to take it overseas for some basic naval diplomacy, to show the flag, so to speak," he said. "And this will already have tremendous symbolic and psychological effects."
It might also send the Liaoning on humanitarian missions, such as disaster relief, or into crisis areas to evacuate its own or other citizens.
Erickson said China previously sent warships to Yemen to evacuate foreign nationals from that country as it descended into civil war.
“So the world will be watching what China does with its aircraft carrier, or aircraft carriers, over time,” he said.