China flags global naval role after new carrier launch

China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was built on an actual Kuznetsov-class frame, a "rusting Soviet-era hull from Ukraine" and launched in 2011, the New York Times reports. In addition to carriers, China has also been constructing new destroyers, cruisers, and supply ships. Michael Chase of the US think tank RAND Corporation said the carriers reflect the progress China's has made in shipbuilding and other defense industries, and future carriers will be even more sophisticated, particularly in their propulsion and aircraft launch systems. The vessel also houses a ski jump-style deck for take offs, which experts say is cheaper to run than the catapults used by the USA, but limits the diversity of aircraft on board to smaller fighter jets. However, the carrier is not expected to enter active service until 2020.

China is eager to show its strength in the South China Sea, where it insists on sovereignty over virtually all the resource-rich waters despite rival claims from its Southeast Asian neighbours.

China launched the carrier on Wednesday amid rising tension over North Korea and regional worries about Beijing's assertiveness in the South China Sea and its broader military modernisation programme. When commissioned, this will be the nation's first domestically-built carrier.

Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, presided over a ceremony for the launch of the Shandong on Wednesday in the northeastern port of Dalian.

These and other technical limits mean that China's two aircraft carriers will not be able to range out to sea for as long as American carriers, nor will the jets that fly from them be able to carry as much fuel and munitions as American carrier fighters.

"It's probably been created to just get China in the aircraft carrier game, and while this design was just an incremental advance (on the country's first carrier), with the next carrier, which could already be under construction, it will be much closer to a USA carrier", he said. The Chinese navy is moving towards nuclear-powered aircraft carriers with bigger tonnage and improved combat capabilities, Cao told CCTV. As such, the Type 001A carrier is part of a large play to enhance the navy's capabilities for "strategic deterrence and counterattack, maritime maneuvers, joint operations at sea, comprehensive defense and comprehensive support", according to Beijing's State Council Information Office. The new carrier is built along similar lines, although it appears slightly larger and more advanced, analysts said. The U.S. Navy has 323,000 personnel to China's 235,000. But Russian carriers are generally fitted with ski-jump ramps - curved ramps that allow aircraft to build up velocity and take off from shorter runways. But they lack the powerful catapult technology for launching aircraft of their USA counterparts.

Little has been known, however, about China's domestic aircraft carrier program, which is a state secret.

  • Leroy Wright