A Chinese J-15 fighter jet prepares to take off from the deck of the Liaoning aircraft carrier. Photo: AFP

China’s military has carried out its first ever live-fire drills using an aircraft carrier and fighters in the northeastern Bohai Sea close to Korea, state media said.

China’s growing military presence in the disputed South China Sea has fuelled concern, with the United States criticizing its militarization of maritime outposts and holding regular air and naval patrols to ensure freedom of navigation.

Ten vessels and ten aircraft engaged in air-to-air, air-to-sea and sea-to-air combat drills that featured guided missiles, state broadcaster Chinese Central Television reported late on Thursday.

“This is the first time an aircraft carrier squadron has performed drills with live ammunition and real troops,” it said.

China’s Soviet-built Liaoning aircraft carrier and a formation of warships carried out aerial interception, anti-aircraft and anti-missile drills, in which Shenyang J-15 fighter jets carrying live missiles also participated, CCTV said.

A satellite image released by the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative shows construction of possible radar towers in the Spratly Islands. Photo taken February 2016.

On Wednesday, a U.S. think tank said China had been installing anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems on artificial islands in the South China Sea, prompting China to defend its right to install military hardware there.

No other country has claims in the Bohai Sea, a busy northeastern Chinese waterway and the site of Thursday’s drills.

The drills aimed to test the equipment and troop training levels, an unidentified navy official told the official China News Service.

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