The Liaoning, originally known as the Varyag, is about 1,000 feet long and displaces about 60,000 tons fully loaded. It is the sister ship of Russia's disappointing Admiral Kuznetsov carrier.
The US Navy's Nimitz- and Ford-class carriers are over 1,000 feet long and displace roughly 100,000 tons.
The Liaoning is diesel-powered, and diesel-fueled steam turbine power plants are less efficient and reduce the speed and service life of the carrier. Its top speed is believed to be somewhere between 20 knots and 30 knots. The range is limited to a few thousand miles.
The US Navy's aircraft carriers are powered by onboard nuclear reactors. These ships have speeds in excess of 30 knots and an unlimited range.
The Liaoning uses ski jump-assisted short takeoff but arrested recovery (STOBAR) launch systems, which can only launch 60,000-pound aircraft. That means increased strain on the aircraft, reduced sorties, less fuel, reduced operational range, fewer armaments, and reduced combat capability.
US carriers use more effective steam or electromagnetic catapult-assisted takeoff but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) launch systems. Nimitz-class carriers, for instance, have the ability to launch 100,000-pound aircraft.
The Liaoning has an air wing consisting of 24 Sheyang J-15 fighter jets. There is the possibility that China may replace the fourth-generation J-15s with fifth-generation J-31s in the future.
The US Navy's Nimitz-class carriers can carry a larger air wing consisting of as many as 55 fixed-wing aircraft, the fighter component of which is made up of F/A-18s. The US is preparing to arm carriers with the new fifth-generation F-35Cs.
The Liaoning is armed with a 3D air/surface search radar over the main mast, four multifunctional active-phased array radar panels, a FL-3000 naval missile system, a Type 1030 close-in weapons system, and anti-submarine warfare rocket launchers.
US carriers have a number of advanced radar systems, RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles, Phalanx close-in weapons systems, and Rolling Airframe Missiles.
The Liaoning does not appear to have any special armor or protective covering, although it is difficult to know for sure.
US carriers have Kevlar covering vital spaces, like critical machinery and weapons-storage areas. In addition to extra armoring, US carriers are compartmentalized and have redundant systems to ensure they can take a hit.
"If you put the two side by side, obviously the US has huge advantages," Matthew Funaiole, a fellow with the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Business Insider. But Chinese carriers are rapidly improving with each new ship.