China has been sending military personnel to the Ukraine to learn how the country trains its aircraft carrier pilots, in preparation for the aircraft carrier battle group it eventually plans to build.
According to a source in the Ukrainian military industry, China first sent a large naval delegation, headed by the deputy chief of the PLA Navy, to visit the Ukrainian Navy Aviation Force training centers in the southern port cities of Odessa and Sevastopol in October, 2006.
The Chinese visited the Research Test and Flying Training Center at Nitka on the Crimean Peninsula, and the two sides discussed the possibility of Ukraine helping to train Chinas navy aviation force and aircraft carrier pilots, the source said. Since then, Chinese engineers, pilots and naval technical experts have made frequent visits to Nitka.
The focus of much of Chinas current military cooperation with Russia and Ukraine is on producing large aircraft and an aircraft carrier. Ukraine has provided China with a prototype of its T-10K shipborne fighter. By dissecting the T-10K an earlier variant of the Su-33 fighter China hopes to acquire the capability to independently develop its own shipborne fighters.
The single T-10K that China purchased from Ukraine was originally based at the Nitka center, which is equipped with a range of simulators to train pilots in jump take-offs, arresting landings and contingency responses. The training modules simulate the release of the arresting hook on take-off and its use on landing at a speed of 250 kilometers (155 miles) per hour.
The Nikta center previously trained a generation of Soviet pilots on the Su-33 and MiG-29K fighters. Now the 297th Fighter Regiment of the Russian Navy Aviation Force is undergoing training there.
As this author reported earlier, China has imported four sets of aircraft carrier landing assistance equipment and arresting hooks. The Chinese are in the process of building their own aircraft carrier training base, which is why they have been so keenly interested in Nitkas simulators, training software, management procedures and technologies.
The training of aircraft carrier fighter pilots is a crucial step in putting together an aircraft carrier fleet. The training program is extremely harsh. According to the Ukrainian source, the most basic training for short-istance take-offs, landings and ski-jumps would take at least six months.
Ukraine was once the main training center for the Soviet Unions aircraft carrier fighter pilots. It now intends to train navy pilots not only for China, but also for India and other countries that aspire to possess aircraft carriers, a source from Nitka says.
The Indian Navy is in the process of purchasing an aircraft carrier from Russia, as well as MiG-29K and MiG-29UBK fighters, the first batch of which is expected to be delivered to India by the end of the year already a year later than scheduled. The pilots for those fighters will most likely be trained at Nitka.
Chinas dealings with Ukraine reconfirm that the PLA Navy is moving forward on its aircraft carrier project. The Chinese carrier is apparently based on a Russian design; otherwise China would not be interested in Ukraines simulators. This means Chinas aircraft carrier will very likely adopt the Russian methods of ski-jump take-off and landing.
China has also taken practical steps to build an aircraft carrier training base. The first step is to train shipborne fighter pilots at this base, followed by basic short distance take-off and landing training on the disabled Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag, which China purchased in 1998.
Sources from the Ukrainian military industry have confirmed on several occasions that the Varyag is unlikely to be restored to an operational fighter aircraft carrier, and will most likely only be used as a training platform.
Although the ship was purchased by a Hong Kong company ostensibly to be converted into a casino, Ukrainian sources say they were aware of Chinas intentions from the beginning to use it for military purposes. The aircraft carrier, repainted with the colors of the PLA Navy, is now in the Chinese port city of Dalian.