China’s Navy Set To Launch First Carrier This Year
TAIPEI — China is set to launch its first aircraft carrier this year, according to the state-controlled newspaper People’s Daily.
Xu Hongmeng, deputy commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), told the Daily the Navy plans to launch the former Soviet-built Varyag aircraft carrier this year. Since the ex-Varyag’s first sea trial Aug. 10, the PLAN has conducted four sea trials in the Pacific.
China’s aircraft carrier program has been a long tale of incessant duplicity. This includes how China acquired Varyag, how it intends to use it and how it is stealing data for the aircraft it plans to fly from it.
The Chinese have been busy retrofitting the carrier with new engines and equipment since procuring it from Ukraine in 1998.
The $20 million acquisition was made by the Hong Kong-based Chong Lot Travel Agency on the false claim it would be converted into a casino in Macao. Instead, the carrier was towed to Dalian Port, in northeastern China’s Liaoning province, where the PLAN began retrofitting the unfinished Russian carrier.
Chinese officials insist the ex-Varyag will not be deployed but will be used mainly as an experimental training and research vessel for the future development of more advanced carriers. Not all Western analysts agree, instead believing the vessel will eventually be used for carrier-based combat.
Bud Cole, author of the book “The Great Wall at Sea,” said “while continuing to advertise the ex-Varyag as a test/training platform, they will make it operational as soon as they can.”
Cole speculated Chinese officials are becoming “impatient” after working out all the problems on the “former wreck for 10 years.”
The former Varyag has been outfitted with weapons and phased array radars. It has also been equipped with static aircraft to test flight deck equipment.
“I think they can easily get to the point of operating aircraft from the ship by the end of 2012,” Cole said. “That will be relatively straightforward for helos and aircraft ... [but I’m] not sure if they’ve succeeded in finding a source for arresting gear.”
China is also developing a carrier-based fighter for the ex-Varyag. The Shenyang Aircraft Corp. (SAC) is building the J-15 Flying Shark, based on an illegal copy of the Russian Sukhoi Su-33 carrier-based fighter.
In 2009, Sukhoi officials expressed alarm when reports filtered out of China that SAC was building an Su-33 copy. It was later learned SAC had obtained a prototype from the Ukrainian Research Test and Flying Training Center at Nitka in 2001 without Sukhoi’s permission.
There are also unconfirmed Chinese media reports that the Chinese aviation industry is working on a J-18 Red Eagle short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing fighter for possible duty on the ex-Varyag or future carriers.
Russia canceled an assembly program in China for 200 Su-27SK (J-11A) fighters in 2006 after only 95 fighters had been built. Sukhoi officials discovered that SAC violated the intellectual property (IP) agreement by manufacturing a clone dubbed the J-11B with Chinese engines and avionics. There are also suspicions the Chinese have copied the Su-34 fighter-bomber.
On top of that, unconfirmed Russian media reports emerged last week indicating China wants to procure 48 Sukhoi Su-35 super-maneuverable multirole fighters from Russia.
A defense industry source in Ukraine said the Russian government is extremely hesitant to sell the aircraft to China after IP violations with the Su-27/J- 11 and that the deal was reminiscent of a 2006 Chinese request to procure 48 Su-33s. China later reduced the Su-33 deal to 12 aircraft, but Russian officials reportedly ended negotiations fearing continued IP thefts, which were later confirmed when the Chinese-built J-15 (Su-33) made its first test flight in mid-2009.
However, despite IP issues, “China remains a potentially lucrative market for Russian aerospace companies, though less so than in the 1990s, given the changes and developments in Beijing’s indigenous industrial base,” said Doug Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace for the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London.
China’s approach to developing the Su-27 and Su-30MK2, along with illegally copying the Su-33, has “understandably caused irritation in Russia, but as the fighter market tightens, then a potential order for 48 Su-35s is unlikely to be ignored,” he said. Moscow is likely to try to better protect its intellectual property this time around if the deal goes forward, Barrie said.
There is also interest by Russian air-launched guided weapons manufacturers hoping for a piece of the Su-35 deal.
“In terms of Chinese interest in the Su-35, this could reflect a continuing interest in taking a dual-track approach in acquiring combat aircraft” from Russia, Barrie said.
China’s request for the Su-35 suggests China has hit a bump in its technological development of fighter aircraft and needs the Su-35 to bridge the gap, said the Ukrainian defense industry source.