Sunday, August 21, 2005

China Carrier Program

To those who are holding on to the belief that China military expansion is merely defensive; here is a piece from Jane’s Defense Weekly (subscription is required). It cost several hundred dollars to subscribe to Jane so I will do a favor to all readers by posting the article in full follow by my own comment. Article follows.

Is China Building A Carrier?
By Yihong Chang, JDW Correspondent & Andrew Koch, JDW Bureau Chief,Hong Kong & Washington, DC
Chinese shipyard workers have been repairing a badly damaged ex-Russian aircraft carrier and have repainted it with the country's military markings, raising the question once again of whether China is pursuing longer-term plans to field its first carrier.

In the latest developments, images show that workers at the Chinese Dalian Shipyard have repainted the ex-Russian Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier Varyag with the markings and colour scheme of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy (PLAN). Additional new photographs show that other work, the specifics of which could not be determined, appears to be continuing and that the condition of the vessel is being improved.
JDW believes that PLAN technicians have also conducted thorough studies of the basic structure of the Varyag during the past few years to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the carrier's structural design. Former PLAN commander General Liu Huaqing stated in his memoirs that China had purchased blueprints for the carrier - a fact that Russian sources confirmed to JDW. Moreover, Gen Huaqing added: "The competent departments of the defence industry employed Russian aircraft carrier designers to come to China and give lectures."
Gen Huaqing noted that "meanwhile, a certain amount of aircraft carrier design documents were also introduced into China, which helped [China] to make some progress in the preliminary research of the key equipment of [an] aircraft carrier. [PLA] Headquarters of General Staff and the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence organised constant analysis, evaluation andassessment of the related study trips, import projects and preliminary
Still, China's ultimate intentions for the Varyag remain unclear. Onepossibility is that Beijing intends to eventually have it enter intosome level of service. A military strategist from a Chinese militaryuniversity has commented publicly that the Varyag "would be China's first aircraft carrier".
It is possible that the PLAN will modify the Varyag into a trainingaircraft carrier. A US intelligence official said the vessel could bemade seaworthy again with enough time, effort and resources. However,US defence officials said that repairing the Varyag to become fullyoperational would be an extraordinarily large task. The carrier wasabout 70 per cent complete at the time of transfer and sensitiveportions were destroyed, including damage to the core structure,before China was permitted to take possession. Given the difficultyand expense, it is questionable whether Beijing would pursue theeffort only to use the Varyag as a training platform; such a movecould, however, mark a transitional phase en route to a fullyoperational capability.
Another possibility is that China does, indeed, plan to repair thevessel to become its first seagoing aircraft carrier or use knowledgegained from it for an indigenously built carrier programme. The US intelligence official said such an outcome "is certainly apossibility" if China is seeking a blue- water navy capable ofprotecting long-range national interests far from its shores such assea lanes in the Strait of Malacca. If this strategy were to befollowed, China would have to reinstate the structural integritydegraded before delivery and study the structural design of the carrier's deck. These two activities, along with the blueprints andthe ship itself, could be used to design an indigenous carrier. Such a plan would very likely be a long-term project preceded by the development of smaller vessels such as amphibious landing ships.
Despite the obvious controversy a Chinese aircraft carrier would entail, some US retired and active military officials say they are not troubled by the move as it would siphon off resources from other PLAN projects they view with greater concern. These include anti-access capabilities for use in a future conflict over Taiwan such as fielding more diesel-electric submarines, anti-ship cruise missile platforms and ballistic missiles with manoeuvring warheads that navy officials’ project could be capable of targeting US warships from sometime around 2015. Retired US Navy Rear Admiral Eric McVadon, an expert on the Chinese military and former US military attaché to that country, said it would be a little surprising if China were seriously pursuing a carrier as up to now Beijing has focused on improving its anti-access capabilities in a Taiwan crisis scenario - a situation in which a Chinese carrier would be of marginal value.
US defence and military officials were also sceptical, noting that fielding a Chinese carrier would be years in the making and entail significant time and resources far beyond just the vessel and its air wing. They noted, for example, that China would have to learn how to conduct integrated carrier operations with the rest of the fleet, including having to acquire the requisite escorts. It would also need to learn how to conduct maritime patrols away from shore and controlthose from the carrier. Past Russian and US experiences show these are not easily, cheaply or quickly accomplished.

Whatever the ultimate plan, the moves would appear to discredit China's original claim that Macao's Agencia Turisticae Diversoes Chong Lot Limitada purchased the Varyag with the intention of converting it into a 'floating casino'. [End of article]

COMMENT:

JDW put forth a few hypotheses for the activities surrounding the Varyag. (1) That China is finishing the carrier for its navy. (2) Using the carrier, in addition to the blueprint, as a study for an indigenous carrier design. (3) Or that it is used for a training platform. Regardless, it is clear that China is intending to possess a carrier capability. The questions are how and when.

This destroys the wishful theory that China ambition is limited to Taiwan. China does not need carriers to invade Taiwan. Taiwan is well within striking distance of all Chinese aircrafts. The carrier is intended for neighbor further away such as Malaysia, Indonesia, or the Philippines. I am not suggested that China want to annex these countries. But possession of carrier(s) increase China military project a hundred folds its current capability making intimidation far more effective.

What is most disturbing about the article is not China’s intention but this sentence: “US defence and military officials were also sceptical, noting that fielding a Chinese carrier would be years in the making and entail significant time and resources far beyond just the vessel and its air wing.” We must not forget that Defense and military officials prior to September 11th, 2001 were skeptical that Al-Qaeda has the capability to strike at the US homeland. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. China is developing at a phenomenon rate. In fact in the Eastern Coast of China, technology skipped several phases that Western countries had to go through. No one ten years ago could have predicted such the proliferation of technology in China. And no one can predict where it will go ten years from today. Let not underestimate our potential competitor.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Mixed Humor said...

Minh...interesting read and thanks for the post. We linked to it and added a little additional commentary from a report on China's Carriers from the Naval War College.

http://63.247.134.60/~pobbs/archives/001499chinas_carrier_ambitions.html

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what? You think you can hold back a rising nation? You can slow it down sure, and piss it off in the process, ensuring future enmity instead of the potential for a future where two powerful nations can at least get along. Your nervousness, and that of the China-phobes more generally, reflects your own insecurities, not the national security interests of the United States. Far better to recognize that China is going to get this technology one way or the other and find a way to deal with and hopefully cooperate with a rising China rather than quixotic attempts to freeze them out.

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