Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Future Of The Chinese Aircraft Carrier Program

Defense News reports that Chinese Gen. Luo Yuan of the Academy of Military Sciences stated "If we consider our neighbors - India will have three aircraft carriers by 2014 and Japan will have three carriers by 2014", the General went on to say  "So I think the number [for China] should not be less than three so we can defend our rights and our maritime interests effectively.".     
     This idea is not unheard of, due to the fact that in 2008 a Japanese newspaper ran an article quoting Chinese sources saying that China would build 3 aircraft carriers (not including the Varyag) starting in 2009. Further evidence to support this claim comes in the form of a photo Alert 5 found, and was later posted here, showing the Varyag's starboard side, and a large keel in the next dry dock.
     The keel in the photo appears to be as long as the Varyag itself, and is not yet finished. The keel also appears to be for a ship larger than a destroyer, which are the biggest warships in the Chinese navy (with the exception of the Varyag), and also appears to be extremely large compared to the man in the bottom left center. If this is an aircraft carrier it is probably is of a size similar to the Varyag, and possibly of a different design.
     On top of this, Aviation Week reported that China is also planning to build 2 nuclear powered Project 1143.7 Ulyanovsk-class carriers during the 2020s. The Ulyanovsk-class was supposed to be a Soviet equivalent of the Nimitz-class carriers of the 1980s, and was designed to carry 70 aircraft, and have a displacement of 80,000 tons. However, with collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Ulyanovsk which was then under construction, was canceled and scrapped.
      If the Chinese were to build a nuclear powered aircraft carrier similar to the Ulyanovsk-class, it would mean the Chinese would have to learn a who new range of skills. 1. The Chinese have no experience dealing with nuclear reactor on a surface ship, but do have some experience with reactors on submarines. 2. Nuclear powered carriers need special refueling areas for their mid-life refueling, and special procedures for refueling a reactor of that size. 3.The replenishment need for a Ulyanovsk-class carrier is 33% larger than for the Varyag, and the Chinese do not have a large supply fleet or the skills needed for that task.
     One other aspect of the Chinese aircraft carrier program is whether or not they will put anti-ship missiles (ASMs) on their carriers like the Soviets/Russians. When the Varyag was designed, it was supposed to carry 12 SS-N-19 (P-700) Shipwreck ASMs. The Ulyanovsk-class was also designed to carry 12 SS-N-19s, and/or 12 SS-N-12 (P-500) Sandbox ASMs. What is interesting about this is that in the photos showing the Varyag, there has been no sign of VLS (Vertical Launch System) cells that would hold ASMs. However, if there are VLS cells in the photos then there is a possibility that they might be loaded with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) rather than ASMs.
     As the Chinese continue to overhaul the Varyag, it will be extremely interesting to find out more about the Varyag's weapons system, and equipment as more information comes out. On top of this it will be facinating to see how China designs their future aircraft carriers, and associated systems.

Photo Credit: China Defense Blog, Alert 5

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