Wednesday, 11 February, 2009

Report: China to build 2 carriers by 2015????

China plans to begin building two aircraft carriers next year, a Japanese newspaper reported Wednesday, in what would be its first attempt at fixed-wing naval aviation and a potentially major new variable in the strategic calculus of the Pacific.

The two flattops each would be between 50,000 and 60,000 tons, be conventionally powered and patrol the South China Sea, according to the report in Japans Asahi Shimbun newspaper, which cited Chinese shipbuilding sources. The carriers could be in the fleet by 2015, the story said.

China is one of the worlds largest builders of commercial ships, although its biggest indigenous warship so far has been no more than about 17,000 tons. The Asahi Shimbun reported that the carriers would be built at a new shipyard outside Shanghai and include components already on order from Russia.

A Chinese naval officer told the newspaper that one of the carriers primary missions would be to guard the sea lanes that connect energy-ravenous China with oil and mineral resources in the Middle East and Africa.

The story is the latest in a series of reports from around the world about Chinese ambitions to field an aircraft carrier. The official Peoples Liberation Army Daily newspaper reported in September that 50 pilots from the Dalian Naval Academy were training for ship borne aircraft flight. Official Russian press agencies reported in October that China had purchased as many as 50 Su-33 Flanker-D fighter jets, an updated version of the Su-27K carried aboard Russias sole aircraft carrier. Since then, British and American news agencies have quoted top Chinese officials as expressing great interest in seaborne airpower.

The Chinese government would seriously consider relevant issues with factors in every aspects on building its first ever aircraft carrier, said navy spokesman Huang Xueping, according to a Dec. 23 report by the official Xinhua news agency. China has a long coastline and the sacred duty of Chinas armed forces is to safeguard the countrys marine safety and sovereignty over coastal areas and territorial seas, he said.

Chinas carriers if the Japanese report is accurate would likely be comparable to the Royal Navys Queen Elizabeth-class ships, now just beginning construction. Slightly larger, at 65,000 tons, the Queen Elizabeth is designed for a complement of around 1,400 sailors, including its ships company and air wing, and designed to carry about 40 strike aircraft, plus additional helicopters, according to Combat Fleets of the World.

Because the Chinese carriers are smaller and shorter-ranged than their American counterparts, the U.S. shouldnt view them as a threat, the Chinese naval official told the Asahi Shimbun.

China Seriously Considering Carriers

The most controversial naval issue of the post-Cold War era has been whether or not China is planning to procure aircraft carriers. In late December the senior national defense spokesman, Huang Xueping, declared that China is "seriously" considering adding an aircraft carrier to its navy.

While this may be the most definitive statement to date by a Chinese official, more significant was the Chinese Navy's decision this past fall when 50 naval officers began a pilot training program at the Dalian Naval Academy to provide a cadre of carrier-based aviators.

Thus, speculation about a future Chinese carrier force continues albeit still without any public indications of whether such ships would be constructed in China or possibly purchased from a foreign source, in particular Ukraine, which contains the Black Sea Shipyard in Nikolayev. That yard produced all Soviet-era aircraft carriers. Also, no definitive time table has been put forward by any Chinese officials.

And, much more significant from a viewpoint of the future of China's Navy, on 26 December a three-ship task force departed Sanya in Hainan Province for operations off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden to help deter pirate attacks on international merchant shipping. Although Chinese warships have carried out long-range visits to other countries, those could not be considered operational missions.

(The last time that China sent a naval expedition to East Africa was during the Ming Dynasty when the emperor's envoy Zheng He led a large armada in the early 15th Century to the region for goodwill port calls.)

The modern Chinese task force consists of two missile destroyers and a replenishment oiler. The destroyers are the Haikou and Wuhan. These are two of China's newest warships. The Haikou, completed in 2005, is an advanced air-defense ship, the Chinese equivalent of a Western Aegis-type warship. With a full load displacement of about 6,500 tons, the Haikouhas a heavy anti-air and anti-ship missile armament as well as anti-submarine weapons. Two helicopters are embarked.

The Wuhan, completed in 2004, is the same size, also with a multi-mission capability, although without the advanced 30N6E multi-function radar (Western code name Tombstone). One helicopter is carried.

The replenishment oiler Weishanhu, a 22,000-ton ship, completes the anti-pirate force.

About 800 officers and sailors man the three ships, commanded by Rear Admiral Du Jingchen. Upon sailing, Admiral Du stated that, "China definitely has neither the intention of threatening interests of any sovereign parties nor the interest in breaking up power equilibrium in the region."

A Defense Ministry spokesman said in an earlier statement that Chinese naval forces would observe United Nations Security Council resolutions and relative international laws in fulfilling its obligations. Almost 1,300 Chinese merchant ships have passed through the Gulf of Aden in 2008, with seven being attacked. One fishing ship and her 18 crew members are still being held by pirates. Negotiations for their rescue are underway.

China's increasing world-wide political and economic interests have rarely been supported by military forces. Thus, the anti-pirate operation will provide excellent training for Chinese naval forces in such operations while at the same time giving their officers experience in tactical operations with other navies. And, for Western navies operating in the area, it will provide an excellent opportunity for intelligence collection against modern Chinese warships their procedures.

"The main draw back of China in this issue is" an amrican officer concluded the issue "China either have the main catapult technolgy or the the question does not raise when will they finish the project".

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