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Asia's Game of Thrones
China’s New Carrier (Almost) Ready for Launch

China’s much-anticipated, home-built aircraft carrier is about to make its debut, reports South China Morning Post

China was making final preparations to launch its first domestically built aircraft carrier as it marked the 68th anniversary of the founding of the PLA Navy ­on Sunday.

The scaffolding around the ship, temporarily named the Type 001A, was removed and the deck was cleared, Shanghai-based news portal reported, suggesting that the launch date was getting close. […]

From the successful refitting of the Liaoning in 2011 and its commission a year later, China spent just five years to produce the 001A. Even though its layout is almost the same, the new carrier features the latest equipment, including a bigger hangar to carry more J-15 fighters and more space on deck for helicopters and other aircraft.

The new carrier’s launch is sure to be a point of pride for Chinese nationalists, who have been cheering the effort as a sign of China’s growing maritime ambitions. But the Chinese achievement hardly implies a decisive change in the balance of power with the United States. Once the Type 001A is officially commissioned—which may take another two to three years after its initial launch—China will have a grand total of two aircraft carriers, one of them a refurbished Ukrainian model. By comparison, the United States has 10 carriers, four of which are deployed in the Asia-Pacific alone.

Still, this is not reason for complacency: China has already begun work on a third carrier in Shanghai, and its plans to build up to six carriers, and ten naval bases to host them, are already spooking neighbors like India. China’s quest for a blue-water navy, capable of projecting power globally and securing access to its sea-trade routes, may be years away. But after the steady growth of China’s maritime reach during the Obama years, the United States still needs a credible strategy to convince China’s neighbors that it will remain the top dog in the Pacific for years to come.

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  • We want the world to tremble before our junk carriers. The Liaoning, originally the Soviet Navy’s Varyag, was junk when it when it was new. Type 001 is predicated on that junk design, and likewise has no catapult so we can only launch lightly armed planes – slowly.

    • Andrew Allison

      Not to mention that the names of the carriers should be Sitting Ducks 1 & 2.

      • D4x

        China’s carriers are paid for with American purchases of Chinese-made consumer products, purchased with money borrowed from China. At least USA carriers skip the Chinese imports, and DoD just borrows the money from China, somehow.

      • f1b0nacc1

        Perhaps, but what about #3?…Surely you realize that this won’t be the end of it…

    • f1b0nacc1

      While your description is correct, your analysis is flawed. These first two carriers are designed to give the Chinese an understanding of how to build them and how to operate them, little more than that. You need to train deck crews and learn how to launch and recover aircraft under varied circumstances, something that you simply cannot do without a functioning carrier. You need to understand how to build and operate air groups and escorts, something that requires a real live ship to make things work. This is a long, slow process, and though the USN has been doing it for the better part of a century, it is all new for the PLAN. They are taking this slowly and putting the resources in so they don’t end up with a Potemkin fleet like the Russians did.

      I am NOT a fan of the PRC, and I do not wish them well. I can, on the other hand, recognize an intelligent and careful process of development. They are dangerous, and will become more dangerous in time if we do not take them seriously. When Type 002 (already under construction) sails WITH a catapult, and appropriate aircraft, aircrew, and escorts, we may find ourselves in a very, very different strategic situation.

      • Sorry, sir/madam, but your analysis is flawed. You train crews on the type of vessel you want them to operate competently. You don’t train a crew to operate a modern carrier with a steam catapult on a junk, Soviet-style design. And when/if we ever build a modern carrier with at least a steam catapult, possibly electromagnetic but unlikely, it will be our first and a baby step against states with decades of operating experience.

        • f1b0nacc1

          A CATOBAR carrier is a very complex vessel, and it sits at the apex of carrier operations. If you are starting from zero (which is where the PLAN is coming from), you begin with the basics, and work your way up. Aircrews and flight ops crews have years, decades of experience to gain before they need trouble themselves with catapults and the aircraft that they can handle, there is no need (yet) to waste the resources on technologies that may not even be useful by the time the PLAN is ready for them. As an example, the USN is atttempting to perfect an electromagnetic catapult for their next generation Ford-class carriers. The Chinese, by simply waiting and training their crews to prepare them for operations, may be able to avoid the steam technology entirely.

          If the US gave the PLAN a carrier today, they would be unable to operate it usefully, and would be unable to even properly train their crews. Their existing carrier (and its follow-on) is not terribly useful in a straight up fight against the USN, but it would do nicely against the lesser navies of Taiwan or India, possibly even giving the Japanese pause. Certainly it would give the US an additional strategic problem should a war with Taiwan break out. None of these things suggest that the Liaoning or its follow-on is useful as a ‘ship of the line’ so to speak, but it will give the Chinese a great deal to work with while their shipbuilding industry works up, and their spies steal the necessary technologies.

          By the way, it is sir….grin…

          • So you’re calling us stupid? Because it’s stupid to use an inferior ship to train for a vastly superior ship. You said it yourself. A nuclear powered carrier with the catapult is a very different ship, and even harder to operate. We just don’t know how to build those ships. We send so many A+ students to America for materials science and engineering. Still we can’t do it. Maybe someday.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Nonsense….one does not start out at age 5 riding 10-speed racers, one learns with training wheels and small bikes. The Chinese are not stupid (though I am prepared to make some exceptions if you force me to….grin…), but they lack experience, and they know this. They are simply gaining that experience most expediently, using what tools are at hand. Remember, the Liaoning was originally an old Soviet attempt at a carrier, and they got it for next to nothing. So they took this junker, polished it up, and now they have something that will be used to train the crews of the full-sized carriers that they will use in the future.

            Also, while I am not a fan of these ski-jump carriers, they do have their uses. When one has ample land-based air conveniently at hand (as they do in the SCS, for instance), the shortcomings of these carriers are minimized, and they can be at least semi-valuable. A surface action group based around one of these, for instance, could be a serious threat to a second-tier navy, or a detached group of American vessels.

            The Chinese are unlikely to have a full-sized nuclear-powered carrier in service until the mid-late 20s, but they do not need to at this point. They are operating within range of land-based air cover (and strike aircraft), they are unlikely to require nuclear power anytime soon (they do not have world-wide deployment needs, and aren’t likely to for some time, if ever), and their AA/AD systems will make a confrontation with the USN carrier groups quite unlikely for the foreseeable future. Using these ships to train up crews, and gain experience and understanding of the peculiar nature of carriers and their operations is both practical and economical, something that anyone who has worked with the Chinese would recognize.

            Seriously now, you do know better….grin…

            By the way, if pressed, I would be confess that I have my doubts that the Chinese will even be a significant power (if indeed it is even a unitary state) by the 2030s, so all of this may be academic….

          • That is utter nonsense and we all know it. You DONT get experience operating a nuclear carrier and catapult system from a junk carrier without a reactor and without a catapult. You’re comparing this to pilot school or something which is not analogous. Pilots start in the classroom, and then fly a Cessna, but they eventually do their real training on the plane they will fly, like a Boeing 777, for several years!
            America doesn’t have a junk carrier for every super carrier to train new crews.

          • Unelected Leader

            Dear Leader, I think the tragedy of this thread is that you’re both right lol. These junk carriers don’t train crews to operate supercarriers. Period. However, the Chinese might think they are really training, and that’s sad. They are literally 90 years behind (general carrier operating experience), and more than 50 years behind operating a nuclear powered carrier.

          • That’s what I’m saying. And it’s not pre-nuclear ship days. The only way to really learn and at least start learning is to build a modern carrier. But we can’t do that yet. To be fair though, most countries can’t, not even the Russians. America has been the pinnacle naval power for a very long time and that’s not going to change in our lifetime probably.

          • Unelected Leader

            Oh I know that lol. And the Russians have a pretty sordid ship building history. Just read a repeat of the same story that pops up every other year “Russia plans worlds largest aircraft carrier” FACE PALM. Why do they do it? Who does it? Almost wonder if someone leaks such nonsense /fake plans to make putin look bad.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The USN has worldwide deployment requirements, which is why it uses nuclear power. The cost, complexity, and general difficulty in using it tends to make it unsuitable for any nation that doesn’t have an immediate requirement for long-distance deployments where the extra fuel simply takes up too much space. Since there is very little reason to see the PLAN deploying their carriers beyond the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific, nukes are simply a waste of resources, something that the Chinese rarely do with their naval designs.

            Supercarriers are the preference of the American fleet for many reasons, the biggest of which is the generally presumed lack of land-based aircover in remote deployments. The Chinese aren’t looking at that problem in the short/mid-term, and thus can consider smaller carriers to be a viable operational option even if they are primarily interested in using them for training and ‘practice’. This is similar to what the Italians, Spanish, Japanese, etc. have done in the past and continue to do now. It makes little sense (other than overcompensation for a known physical deficiency…grin) to build large carriers just for the sake of it. Indeed, if one is planning to launch a multi-vector offensive against an opponent with potent anti-shipping weapons, distributing striking power among multiple carriers makes good sense.

            If you argue that there is no value in these ships, then you are compelled to explain why they are so widely used, and why supercarriers are not. I am a big fan of supercarriers, and I don’t tend to find smaller carriers useful for many of the needs of the USN, but those needs are not universal, and hence one must consider different designs for different needs. Given the Chinese focus on AA/AD systems, smaller carriers must be considered in the context of the strategies associated with them.

            Once again….you are better than this….support your assertions with something other than flailing…

          • f1b0nacc1

            The key for experience is not the crews themselves (though the flight and support crews do indeed get invaluable experience from these carriers), but for the upper level officers who learn to handle carrier operations. You seem to be missing this essential point, and I am not clear as to why. Catapults and nuclear reactors obviously require a different kind of experience, but that is far, far easier to obtain than the ins and outs of operating a carrier at sea. The American experience with these things is what sets us apart.

            Actually, your pilot analogy makes very point quite nicely. Pilots are trained from small single-engined props to complex multi-engined jets (or in the case of fighter pilots, high performance jets) without jumping immediately to the ‘big leagues’. At some point the pilots themselves must move up to the planes that they are going to fly of course, but there are many things that they can learn on simpler aircraft without introducing the confounding complexities of a high performance aircraft.

            America doesn’t use smaller carriers at this stage because they already have larger carriers, though I should point out that there are many intelligent and capable analysts who suggest that we introduce some. I don’t agree with this, but they do make some strong points that for niche operations these smaller carriers would make sense. The Chinese have just one of those niche circumstances where a small carrier would be useful. During WWII and in the pre WWII era, the US (and every other carrier using navy, including the Japanese and UK) did in fact make use of small carriers for flight training, another important point to keep in mind.

            You are making assertions that you haven’t supported yet, and from what I have seen of your previous postings, you can do better than this.

          • No, you are missing the point. I’m from China. The government tells us almost every day about the plans for a first rate military and to operate worldwide. We know their claims are lies. When we study abroad or visit Taiwan, Korea, Japan you find Chinese just sitting watching real news and on the real Internet.

            The government can mostly control information at home. And they tell us especially since Xi’s “strong china dream” comment that we are going global. But we know it’s not true. If half of what the government says is true then we would not still be buying Russian planes or playing with these garbage carriers. The pilot analogy is perfect because pilots don’t fly biplanes and then start a Beijing to San Francisco on an Airbus. You have to have the Airbus first!

          • KremlinKryptonite

            Well, I’m in the USN. Maybe I can help shed some light on the PLAN’s difficulties for you. They are struggling to build modern nuclear reactors for subs. Building an even bigger power plant for a large carrier up to 100,000 tonnes is simply beyond their technical capability for now.
            The US struggled with this, too, for years. The USS Enterprise preceded the Nimitz and was powered by eight sub reactors…at a great cost of space. It was not ideal.

            Beyond the reactor problems facing the Chinese are the catapults. It took the US years to work out the kinks in steam powered catapults, and the new EMALS is simply beyond Chinese technical capacity and, for that matter, practical knowledge to make good use of it.
            There are also problems of metallurgy, as you intimated. China lacks the ability to make a hull for a vessel of such size. Although, that is one problem they will probably overcome before the others. India used to be highly reliant on super strong Russian steel and alloys before developing their own.

            Then there are the planes themselves. Again, as you intimate, china isn’t good at building them, and is still buying Russian planes. The J-15 is a less than desirable aircraft for a carrier air wing.
            Worst of all, without the catapult, the J-15 has a hilariously small combat radius when it’s heavily armed at the expense of fuel (a meager 100 miles or so!)

          • Yes I know some of that. But I guess thanks for some more detail. I’m sure the PLAN Will embarrass us by building something like the USS enterprise then. Ahhh. What is your job in the Navy?

          • KremlinKryptonite

            I spent several years on the USS Pennsylvania, and then went to OCS to become an officer and I went into intelligence. My brother-in-law is a navy NFO. Basically, he’s like goose in Top Gun, so I consult with him on any questions I have regarding naval aviation.

          • f1b0nacc1

            When were you on the Pennsylvania?

            OT: you did see that the Michigan is ‘visiting’ South Korea…all those lovely Tomahawks and their land-attack variant!

          • KremlinKryptonite

            I’m here! Been in Seoul for many years now lol. It’s a beautiful ship. 154 missiles that can be dumped in less than seven minutes. Of course you know that it can also deploy UUVs, sonar buoys and other sensors, and up to 60 SEALs.
            It’s a big statement that it’s here.
            In 2010, Michigan, Ohio, and Florida all participated in a show of force in reaction to a Chinese missile test, surfacing separately off of Diego Garcia, the Philippines and South Korea at roughly the same time.
            In 2011, Florida launched 93 missiles targeted at Libyan air defenses in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn, and cleared the way for air operations (The first time in Ohio class fired a weapon in anger).

            I was on the Pennsylvania in the very late 90s and very early 2000’s.

          • Oh that’s so cool. That’s what we are talking about. That’s real global reach and real power. China doesn’t have that power. And we are more annoyed that the government lies about it vs. not having the power. Also our military doesn’t justify and cannot secure our economy. The #2 economy in the world doesn’t have the #2 military or even #5 military.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I had some small connection to that ‘demonstration’ in 2010, your mention of it gave me a great surge of pride!

            Yes, the Michigan’s presence in South Korea is a most intriguing signal…one must wonder what the Norks are thinking about it…

            You know, we might have crossed paths in the past…it is a very, very small world!


          • f1b0nacc1

            I don’t doubt for one moment that China’s government lies almost non-stop. In my visits there, I have seen this myself, and I can only imagine what a resident (not to mention someone with language skills better than my own) observes. Yet as much as they may lie, the truth occasionally slips out, if nothing else by mistake.

            China is strong and growing stronger. They are learning to improve their techniques, and have demonstrated this repeatedly as time goes on. Building a supercarrier is not an end in and of itself, merely a means to that end, and the Chinese can and will pursue it as they determine that they need to. Their existing carrier is clearly not an equal to a Nimitz-class, for instance, but even the PLAN doesn’t claim that it is. It is the first step towards the goal of building a true carrier force, but that force may consist of many of what you refer to as junk carriers, IF that is what the PLAN determines to be suitable for their goals.

            The Chinese buys Russian aircraft because they cannot (yet) build their own in suitable numbers and quality to meet their needs. They are learning (either by experience or theft, often the latter) to do so, and have come up with some interesting indigenous designs such as the J-20 and J-31. They are improving their understanding of how to build jet engines (an extremely difficult task) and will over time learn to do that as well. They are learning how to build a carrier and more importantly to operate it, and that takes a great deal of time and effort….experience that can ONLY be gained with patience. Yes, they are starting with the more limited tools they have at their disposal, then moving up as they find that they can.

            To use your example, their pilots start with biplanes, then move to more advanced aircraft. You do not need an Airbus, for instance, to cross the pacific, you can do it in a less advanced aircraft, then step up to better ones when they become available. But if you want learn to run an AIRLINE (which is more appropriate), you have to learn a great many skills other than simply piloting, and this experience can be gained long before you have the Airbus available for your use.

          • Of course the truth comes out at some point because the government has to buy more time. Otherwise their claims/lies become less annoying and more crazy and absurd. Naval expert Li Jie acknowledged the problem to the SCMP. “Compared with submarines, a carrier is much bigger. It will take time for our nuclear engineers to develop a safe and powerful engine capable of driving a huge platform of more than 100,000 tonnes.”

            And that quote gets to the heart of the problem. All Chinese know that China is behind, far behind. And the government annoys everyone by pretending that it’s not behind, or not far behind. Same with those J20 and J31. Do you know how many millions of Chinese make fun of those junk planes because we know they are just built from stolen teknology and they still aren’t good.

            Chinese government claims it can build fifth generation fighters. Then it turns around to buy Russian fourth generation. CCP = liars. Nothing more. That’s why more than half of all Chinese study abroad don’t go home.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Actually I am less concerned about the ability of the Chinese to master the reactor technology itself (ironically submarine reactors are much harder to build because of the size constraints), as I am about their ability to put it in a hull and keep it running. The Enterprise, America’s first nuclear carrier, used 8 small reactors, and while this certainly wasn’t idea, they did work. The Chinese are certainly capable of handling that technology. The shipbuilding problem is another matter entirely, however. Hence the need to work with increasing larger carrier hulls as a means of gaining experience.

            The J-20 and J-31 are certainly the beneficiaries of stolen technology, but this doesn’t make them any less dangerous. I don’t think much of the J-31 (so far), but the J-20 is an interesting design that seems to be rather well-suited to the role of a long-range interceptor. It won’t outmatch anything in a dogfight, and its ‘stealth’ is laughable, but it has the range, speed and weapons capability to create major problems for an American air group. Does that make it ‘better’ than an F-22, for instance? No, but it doesn’t have to be, just as an F-22 is no match for a B-2 as a bomber…they are different planes to do different things. The J-20 is a very specialized aircraft, and likely will only be built in numbers of 200-500. This isn’t a matter of quality, it is a matter of need. The Chinese cannot yet build high performance aircraft on a par with F-22s or Su-35s, so they buy those, and work out reasonable ways to use what they can build in the meantime. This is a practical strategy for a pragmatic people.

            The Chinese cannot build 5th generation fighter, and likely cannot build particularly good 4th generation ones either. This isn’t the point as what they ARE doing is learning how to do so step by step. They can now build lower performance jets and some fairly adequate commercial grade turbofans, which means they have gone from a standing start to a fairly small club in only 20 years. Yes, they have stolen a lot of that technology (the Russians, in particular, are furious about this….boo-hoo for them!), but that matters little…what matters is results. They clearly mean to apply the same techniques to carriers and other instruments of power, and I suspect that they made be able to make it work.

            You criticize the CCP, and I share your dislike of them, but I am careful to recognize that even a contemptible government can be dangerous. The Nazis were loathesome, the Soviets perhaps even worse, but both were supremely dangerous and presented very real threats that we underestimated at our peril. Just as I do not overestimate the PLAN, I don’t underestimate them either…both are serious mistakes.

          • Oh come on man. Don’t believe the propaganda. I think American military guys work with the Chinese government sometimes. At least the American military knows the J20 is a joke, but they get their writers to write some articles about it and then use that to ask for more money so that they can always stay ahead. Really smart actually. The Germans are like engineering gods. Better than Russian and American scientist at that time and that’s why US and USSR took them after the war. Not that way in China. The J20 is total garbage. Not stealthy. Doesn’t even have a proper engine. That’s why it’s not being mass produced and deployed.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The Germans actually had major problems with most of their weapons systems, and were seriously outclassed (particularly in aircraft) by most of what the allies fielded. Their tanks were inferior to the Russian T-34/76 and T-34/85 (the Panther and Tiger – the best of the German tanks, had serious teething problems, and were mechanically fragile during the entire war), and their aircraft (the possible exception being the Me262) tended to fare poorly against the P51s and P47s, as well as the less impressive Spitfires. They were never able to match American artillery, and while they had some intriguing small arms (the Stg44 being the most obvious example), the never produced anything in numbers on a par with the M1, and their much vaunted MG42 and MG34 were inferior in most ways to the British Brens, Besals, and Vickers. Their rocket programs were impressive, but the V-2 was largely a waste of resources, as it was a phenomenally expensive way to deliver a ton of low-quality explosive (one time!) fairly inaccurately for many times the cost of a simple two engine bomber. Speaking of which, they were never able to build a useful two engine bomber on a par with the B-17 or B-24 (or the British Lancaster). Their much vaunted U-boats had little serious impact on the war after 1942, when even the Germans themselves admitted that they had been beaten in both science and engineering by the Allies.

            Regarding the J-20, you keep making assertions without offering any serious backing for your statements. The J-20 is not a dogfighter, it is a long-range interceptor (possibly with a limited strike role, we simply do not know at this point), for which its design would be most suitable. It only needs to be able to fly reasonably quickly over a long enough range (we know it can refuel in the air, so its poor engines – copies of the Russian designs – aren’t a big issue) while providing a modest radar cross section. We have been able to confirm these things already, even by the limited information that has made its way into the public domain. Certainly it isn’t a superweapon (if you are arguing that characterization is untrue, I certainly agree with you, but I never suggested otherwise), but used properly it could be a serious threat, especially as part of a multi-vector attack. As for it ‘not being mass produced and deployed’, It is still in its preliminary stages of development, similar to what we in American call IOC (initial operating capability), so we would expect to see it move into larger scale (likely 200-500, at least at first) sometime around 2020. Again, this is a learning process for the Chinese, it doesn’t have to be a world beater.

            Some cynicism (especially with regards to PLAN and PLAF claims) is wise and reasonable, but simply naysaying everything is likely to be a mistake. Remember that the West underestimated the Japanese in WWII, and it cost them dearly…

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