Thursday, 2 June 2011

World Watches Nervously As China Prepares To Launch Its First Aircraft Carrier

Varyag is an ex-Soviet Navy aircraft carrier constructed in the 1980s. The vessel construction stopped in 1992 after the break up of the Soviet Union. It remained in the Ukrainian shipyard unfinished until 1998 when a Macau-based Chinese company bought it for US$20 million. In March 2002, the vessel arrived in the Dalian Shipyard in northern China for refurbishment and has been stationed there since then. System installation of the vessel finally began in 2010/2011, and the vessel is expected to enter service with the PLA Navy as a training carrier around 2012.It has been given the Chinese name "Shi Lang," after an admiral who conquered Taiwan in 1681. See The Carrier On Google

Originally named Riga, Varyag is the second hull of the Soviet Navy Project 1143.5 (Admiral Kuznetsov class) aircraft carrier. The 67,500t vessel was laid down at the Nikolayev South Shipyard (formerly Shipyard 444) in Nikolayev on 6 December 1985 and was launched on 4 December 1988. In late 1990s, the vessel was renamed Varyag. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the ownership of the vessel was transferred to Ukraine. Construction stopped by 1992 as Ukraine was unable to fund the project by itself. By then, 70% of the construction had been finished. The vessel was structurally completed but without weapons, electronics, or propulsion.

The unfinished Varyag remained at the dock of the Nikolayev South Shipyard unattended for six years. In the late 1990s, the vessel was put up for auction and it was bought by a Macau-based Chinese company for US$20 million. The company claimed that the vessel would be converted into a floating entertainment centre in Macau, consisting of amusement park, hotel, Casino, restaurant, etc. The contract with Ukraine prohibited the buyer from using the carrier for military purposes. Before handing the ship over, the Ukrainians removed any equipment onboard Varyag that could be used to turn the vessel into a commissionable warship.

Varyag finally left the dock of the Nikolayev South Shipyard in 1999, towed by several high-power tug boats. However, the Turkish government refused the vessel to pass through the Bosporus Strait on the ground that without rudder and engine, Varyag posed too great a danger to other ships as well as facilities in the strait. The vessel was stationed near the strait for three years, until the PRC government was involved to resolve the issue. Following some negotiations with the two countries and handing the Turkish government US$1 million as a guarantee bond, Varyag was finally allowed to pass through the Bosporus Strait

Agence France Presse News Report Dec-2003
"An aircraft carrier is a symbol of overall national strength and a symbol of the competitiveness of the nation's naval force," defence ministry spokesman Huang Xueping told journalists."The Chinese government will take into overall account the relevant factors and seriously consider the relevant issue," he said, when asked when the Chinese navy would acquire an aircraft carrier.

March 20/09 Chinese defense minister Liang Guanglie reportedly tells visiting Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada that:
“Among the big nations only China does not have an aircraft carrier. China cannot be without an aircraft carrier forever…. China’s navy is currently rather weak, we need to develop an aircraft carrier.”

The Agence France Presse report adds that earlier in March 2009, China Daily quoted Admiral Hu Yanlin as saying:“Building aircraft carriers is a symbol of an important nation. It is very necessary…. China has the capability to build aircraft carriers and should do so.”

Varyag arrived in the Dalian Shipyard in northern China in 2002 and has been stationed there under tight security since then. It has become clear that the ship would not become an entertainment centre. Instead the vessel was handed to the PLA Navy for research and restoration. It was speculated that following extensive studies the ship would be finally converted into a fully operational aircraft carrier for training purpose. This was partially confirmed when the ship emerged from a Dalian Shipyard dry dock painted in PLAN grey in 2005. The restoration work was completed in late 2006 and the scaffolding on the ship's bridge has also been removed.

System Installation in 2011
System installation finally began in late 2010. By March 2011 the island of the aircraft carrier was almost complete, with painting finished and scaffolding removed. Among various sensors on the island are a ‘Top-Plate-style’ long-range air/sea search radar on the top of the main mask, and four multifunctional phased array radar panels, possibly similar to those installed on the Type 052C Luyang-II class destroyers.

Displacement: (standard) 67,500 tonnes; (full) 70,500 tonnes Length: 304m

SU-33 And Russia
Near the end of October 2006, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper revealed that Russian state-run weapon exporter Rosoboronexport is completing negotiations with China to deliver up to 48 Sukhoi SU-33 (NATO codename: Flanker-D) carrier-capable fighter aircraft in a purchase deal reportedly worth $2.5 billion. The SU-33 is a variant of Sukhoi’s SU-27 Flanker with forward canards, foldings wings, an arrester hook, a reinforced structure, and other modifications that help it deal with carrier operations and landings.

At present, reports regarding the sale and China’s aircraft carrier intentions both remain somewhat murky. China’s intent to field aircraft carriers is becoming clearer and clearer, but aircraft availability could be a problem. Russian media have reported a breakdown of negotiations, citing past pirating of Russian designs. Meanwhile, China is working on its “J-15,” which is reportedly based on an SU-33 prototype bought from the Ukraine

n October 2006, SinoDefence reported that China will spend $100 million to buy 2 Su-33 fighters from Komsomolsk-on-Amur Production Association for ‘trial and evaluations,’ with delivery expected in 2007-08. Reports claim there is also an agreed option for another 12 Su-33 fighters, with the potential for the deal to grow to 48 SU-33s and $2.5 billion. They add that China’s Dalian Shipyard is currently refitting the ex-Soviet Navy aircraft carrier Varyag, acquired in extremely poor condition from the Ukraine in 1999.

Chinese Effect On The Region
In 2009, China shifted its naval strategy from defending its territorial waters to "defending the open seas" and is seeking to expand its strategic sphere to the Pacific and Indian oceans. China has deployed three naval vessels in waters off the coast of Somalia since 2008 and conducted a massive naval exercise in April last year in which battleships passed by the southern waters of Japan and into the western Pacific. An aircraft carrier is key to achieving that strategy.

An international political expert at Peking University said, "At a time when China's interests span the globe, it does not fit China's national interests to have a naval defense strategy restricted to its territorial waters. It needs aircraft carriers to expand its sphere of operation throughout the world."

It is believed that China has been developing aircraft carriers to secure safe routes for crude oil it imports from the Middle East. It apparently worries that its energy security could be threatened in an emergency in the Indian Ocean and South China and East China seas, which are under U.S. military control. China relies on imports for 60 percent of its oil demand.

Changes are expected in the balance of power and naval dynamics in the Northeast Asia including Korea and Japan. An aircraft carrier travels with a battle group composed of five to eight naval vessels, including Aegis vessels, destroyers and nuclear-powered submarines. If the Shi Lang is deployed on the West Sea, almost all of Korea's air space would be included in the operational theater of China's carrier-based fighter jets, which for the Shi Lang is expected to be between 500 and 800 km, compared to 1,000 km for U.S. aircraft carriers. That is because the SU-33 fighter jets, which are likely to be based on the Shi Lang, have a maximum range of 800 km.

The SU-33 is the naval version of the SU-27 retrofitted for carrier-based operations. While it has inferior capabilities than the SU-27 and is outgunned by Korea's state-of-the-art F-15K fighter jets, it is capable of being launched from an aircraft carrier close to Korea and thus has a wider range of operation. The Chinese aircraft carrier will apparently also carry helicopters equipped with early-warning radar systems, although with a range that is shorter than the U.S.' E-2C early-warning aircraft.

China's neighbors are on edge as the world's most populous country gets ready to launch its first aircraft carrier. The ship is expected to be deployed for warfare-ready in the South China or East China seas.

Japan and Vietnam, which have territorial disputes with China in those areas, are busy working out defenses. Last year, Japan formulated new defense guidelines in favor of increasing the number of large submarines, and Vietnam bought six subs from Russia.

The U.S. has made no particular response, even though according to diplomats in Beijing the carrier threatens it naval supremacy in waters off China. Late last year, the U.S. increased the number of aircraft carriers in the West Pacific controlled by the U.S. Seventh Fleet from one to three. Some observers speculated that this was aimed at responding to provocations from North Korea, but Chinese observers believe it was designed to check the Chinese Navy's advance.

India is also sensitive to Chinese advances into the Indian Ocean to secure its oil transport route. India already building its own aircraft carriers and waiting for the delivery of the 44,000-ton aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov from Russia for US$1.2 billion

Future Developments
For the time being, the Shi Lang will apparently be used as a test platform for carrier-based fighter jet technology while the Chinese develop aircraft carrier battle strategies. Based on its experience modifying the Varyag, China is constructing a homegrown aircraft carrier in Shanghai. This is expected to be deployed around 2015 or 2016. It plans to develop a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier by 2020 as well.

One diplomatic source in Beijing said, "Based on the technological know-how gained from developing the Shi Lang, China will build two or three more conventional aircraft carriers and a nuclear-powered carrier."

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