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Leaky Vessels
China Builds Second Aircraft Carrier

The Chinese media accidentally confirmed that Beijing is building a new aircraft carrier when it leaked that a Changzhou manufacturer was awarded the contract to wire the ship. The reports in a blog and a state-run local newspaper were quickly redacted. The Washington Post reports:

The government in Changzhou, in eastern Jiangshu province, boasted on social media on Sunday that a local firm had won a contract to supply electrical cabling for the carrier. It later deleted the post, but not before it had been widely circulated. A report in a local newspaper was also withdrawn.

Although China has made no secret of its desire to expand its navy and add to its sole aircraft carrier, the news is a reminder of Beijing’s growing military might and the assertive way it has gone about staking its territorial claims in the East and South China Seas in recent years. […]

Although China’s military capabilities lag far behind those of the United States, defense spending here is growing by double digits annually. Last week, the country’s defense ministry spokesman, Col. Yang Yujun, said that military training this year would focus on improving its capability to win“local wars.”

The new carrier will be the second in the Chinese fleet, and the first built domestically. China’s sole current carrier, the Liaoning, has been a source of pride for Chinese nationalists and a rallying point for calls for more naval power going forward. Beijing had to perform some strange diplomatic gymnastics to get a hold of it, and it isn’t the most formidable force on the high seas. More from the Post:

The purchase of China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, had a considerable element of subterfuge about it. A Hong Kong-based businessman and former People’s Liberation Army basketball star, Xu Zengping, bought the ship from Ukraine in 1999 claiming he planned to turn it into a floating casino in Macao. Instead he gave it to the authorities, who refurbished it and eventually put it into service in 2012.

China had been reluctant to purchase the ship in the 1990s because it was trying to repair its international image after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre; instead naval officials approached Xu to buy it on their behalf, the South China Morning Post reported. But, in an interview published last month, Xu told the paper that China had never repaid him any of the $120 million it ended up costing him.

As The Diplomat points out, it has been more or less an open secret for a while now that China is working to secure more aircraft carriers.

China relies heavily on Middle Eastern oil and other critical supplies to keep it running, and the vast majority of those things pass by sea. Unless and until China develops a blue water navy that can credibly challenge if not surpass the U.S. Navy, ensuring safe sea trade from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf on Tonkin and beyond, America will remain the region’s top strategic power. Beijing knows that, and hates it, but the fact that China is still years out from completing its first proper carrier—the Liaoning has so far been used only as a training ship—while the U.S. has 10 nuclear carriers in service indicates that the Chinese challenge to America’s global power is not exactly imminent. But, even though China’s navy won’t be shaking up the global balance of power anytime soon, in its own region its opponents can’t be happy about this new development.

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  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “China relies heavily on Middle Eastern oil and other critical supplies to keep it running, and the vast majority of those things pass by sea.”

    You would think that China would be making nice with all its neighbors that sit on all of China’s sea lanes, instead of threatening them at every opportunity. The fact is you don’t need or want the expense of an aircraft carrier if the seas you want to control are within range of land based aircraft. If China wasn’t intent on being a Conqueror, they wouldn’t be in need of aircraft carriers.
    This statement might be misleading, and seem to indicate that America with its fleet of aircraft carriers is a Conqueror or intent on Empire. But, America’s strategy has been to use the American Global Trading System to change every culture on earth into ones that value Free Enterprise, the Rule of Law, and Democracy, and thereby remove the need to Conquer to have peace. This strategy has been hugely successful, and most of the hold outs like China, can see that trying to oppose the American strategy will result in exclusion from the American Global Trading System, the loss of 40% of their GDP, and losing the continuous improvements in Quality, Service, and Price that the free market generates.

  • Pete

    I wonder who they stole the plans for the carrier from???

    • Andrew Allison

      Well of course they have the plans for our carriers — the question is why invest hundreds of billions of Yuan in a sitting duck? It may turn out that the project is rewiring an existing carrier rather than wiring one under construction.

  • Andrew Allison

    Interesting that China wants to acquire another aircraft carrier given its confidence that it can destroy ours ( One must assume (pray?) that DoD has the same capability. Just one more reason why screwing up the F-35 by making it carrier-capable is so utterly stupid.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Without arguing about the Chinese ability to sink our carriers (grossly overstated, this sort of twaddle becomes accepted wisdom every 10-15 years, yet carriers continue to be viable), the problem with the F-35 wasn’t making it carrier capable (the F-35C), but rather the vertical take-off version (the F-35B) which resulted in an overly wide clumsy airframe. With that said, the F-35 isn’t a good aircraft even without the numerous problems caused by the F-35B option, but that was the straw that broke the camels back

      • Andrew Allison

        You obviously have far more knowledge that I about this subject. Your comment suggests that you think that the basic premise (single-mission fighter) would not have been good for its task. I’d be interested in why. Meanwhile,

        • f1b0nacc1

          Actually I believe that a single mission fighter is a GOOD thing, and (like you, I believe) I oppose the F-35 at about every conceivable level. In point of fact the core problem (and there are MANY) with the F-35 is that it attempts to do too many things with a single platform, and not only does none of them well, it ends up doing most of them very poorly.
          An almost perfect example of this is the VTOL requirement that the Marines managed to shoehorn into the design. Aside from the my distaste for that particular type of aircraft in the first place (the Harrier was essentially worthless in actual field use, as it has too little payload, too short a range, and almost no survivability in contested airspace), the nature of that sort of airframe is simply not compatible with a high performance conventional combat aircraft. Even if one actually believes that a next-gen Harrier is a good idea, it would have been far cheaper to develop one independently than compromise the existing airframe for a conventional fighter, which is what was done with the F-35. Vertical lift comes at a price, and in this case it is a wide fuselage, poor maneuverability at high speeds, and serious range issues.
          The logic of multirole aircraft has been with us for a long time, and (like so many plagues upon our society) has roots in the 1960s and the curse of Robert MacNamara and his ‘whiz kids’. To someone who knows nothing of combat aircraft, the logic is seductive…one platform, lower development costs, common parts, etc. The problem is that in practice it never really works properly. In the 1960s we had the TFX (later the F-111) debacle, and the problems with its replacement, the Phantom II. Different services (and different roles within a service) have wildly different requirements, and trying to shoehorn all of this into one aircraft is problematic at best. A simple example: high levels of wing-loading is necessary for a strike aircraft (more external stores), but counter productive for an air-superiority fighter (lousy maneuverability). Likewise the Navy requires very long ranges in their aircraft (to keep the carriers away from danger), while the Air force does not. The Air Force emphasizes stealth (another questionable tactical choice, but that is an entirely different discussion….), while the Navy does not. Any aircraft that attempts to reconcile these disparate (often incompatible) requirements is not going to be particularly good in meeting any of them.
          My personal preference is for an air superiority platform, a strike platform, a CAS platform, and a light platform, all heavily supplemented by UAVs. The up-front development costs MIGHT be higher (I am not convinced that this would be the case), but the higher levels of competition (note that multiple platforms would also make it easier to reverse the dangerous over-concentration of aerospace companies that we already have, as you wouldn’t have just one big contract to compete on, as is the case now) and specialization would tend to make downstream production easier and cheaper. Some aircraft would in fact perform multiple missions anyway (the F-16, originally designed as a lightweight fighter to complement the F-15 ended up developing into a light fighter/bomber over time), and in fact this sort of evolution is to be welcomed when it reflects real-world experience. ideally, the Air Force (which should really be abolished anyway) would have a different set of aircraft (perhaps with some overlap) with the Navy, with smaller, more focused buys of aircraft lowering the risks involved in mass ‘once-in-a-generation’ purchases. The idea behind economies of scale fail when you are buying relatively small numbers even with mass buys, and in any event any gains you do get are lost from the absence of any real competition between vendors inherent in a winner-takes-all procurement system.
          In short (or long….I apologize for the wordy response), I do not believe that a single ‘big-bang’ multirole fighter is practical or desireable, and the F-35 is an almost flawless example of that sort of dysfunction at its best…

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