Monday 28 April 2008

Chinese navy starts long march

China is bent on the simultaneous development of both an aircraft carrier and a strategic nuclear submarine, or SSBN. Discussions over which should take priority are over, as a higher military budget allocation has accelerated the People's Liberation Army navy's ambitious plan.

China has been working more than 20 years on building a carrier, according to a memoir written by Liu Huaqing, former commander in chief of the navy. He said the navy had had a special budget for research on carrier technology since the 1980s.

China purchased the abandoned Soviet carrier Varyag from Ukraine in 2000, with the excuse that it intended to turn it into a casino. However, sources in the Ukraine military industry have confirmed in a number of interviews since 2001 that the people who came from China to negotiate the deal were not casino experts. All of them were very familiar with navy technology, however.

Now the Varyag is being repaired and upgraded at a shipyard in China's northeast port of Dalian, painted in the colors of the PLA navy. Most likely its design blueprint was included in the deal when the ship was sold to China. Both Russian and Western military observers have speculated the Varyag will be the platform for training and testing the Chinese navy's carrier.

China has purchased additional carrier-related equipment from Russia and Ukraine, indicating the actual construction of the carrier will begin in the near future.

China purchased four sets of tail-hooks for Su33 ship-borne fighters in 2006, purportedly for experimental purposes. It also imported a whole set of supportive landing and takeoff equipment, including four sets of arresting gear in under-deck space, blocking nets and other equipment. All of these systems were designed by Tsnii Sudavogo Mashinostroenia and produced by the Proletarskii Factory.

The procurement quantity of the above systems offers some clues to the actual scale of the aircraft carrier construction program. The first set of items appears to be intended for structural analysis and future imitation. The second set is intended for various testing activities on Varyag, and the third and fourth will be outfitted on China's indigenous aircraft carriers, which means that the first batch of two carries will enter service in the navy.

The chief designer of Ramensky, V. Kavinskii, disclosed to the author that China had purchased one earlier-version T10K ship-borne test aircraft from Ukraine in 2006. The purpose of importing the abandoned T10K was presumably to study the design of its folding wings, the layout of the tail-hook and the structure of its reinforced landing gear.

China will build its own ship-borne fighter based on the domestically made J11B, which is an upgraded version of a license-production type of Su27SK. The Russian navy's Su33 ship-borne fighter has also been upgraded from the basic Su27S.

As for the submarine, China began sea trials on its first Type 094 Jin class SSBN in 2005. Several official Chinese media have declared that the Type 094 SSBN has been successfully completed. The new generation 094 carries 12 new JL2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, or SLBMs, with a range of nearly 5,000 miles, which means that 094 would be capable of attacking the major cities in Canada and the United States directly from Chinese territory.

The Chinese navy's next ambition is the design of a still more powerful new type of submarine after the 094. China Central Television has shown a conceptual image of the latest SSBN carrying 24 SLBMs. However, a military official from Taiwan expressed the belief that China would build at least four of the Type 094 SSBNs.

China's purpose in speeding up the simultaneous development of its aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines is not only to be prepared for an attack on Taiwan, but also part of its ambition to become a world-class superpower.

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