Defence News: Wednesday saw China’s second aircraft carrier take on the seas on it’s maiden mission. This is a follow up ship of Vyrag or Liaoning (CV-16) in Chinese. That Russian ship was junked and sold to China, who bought the rusting hull through proxy and under pretext of converting it to a floating casino. Experimenting and training on the CV-16, China lost no time in ordering the next carrier CNS Shandong (CV-17). But wait, China is building more. Looking at the speed of the entire built, the ship rolled out as if it was not a carrier but a merchant vessel, which are comparatively much easier and less complex to build.
This alarmed every country that is wary of Chinese ambitions and rightly so. China is a new world power, it’s not a democracy and has historically shown aggressive stance on territory as well as keeping a trade imbalance in it’s favor. But now there indications that China’s much hyped first Indigenous aircraft carrier may only be capable of coastal patrol missions. The Russians have claimed that China would not even have a carrier if it were not for Russian help.
China “preserved the 1143.5 project’s overall concept and engineering solutions, which include, for example, planes taking off with help from a rising deck and not steam or electromagnetic catapults. Another particularity is combining the features of a missile cruiser and an aviation group in one ship,” according to Victor Murakhovsky, chief editor of Arsenal Otechestva magazine. Murakhovsky said that the Soviet concept for building its warships was that each vessel had to have the maximum number of offensive and defensive weapons systems to maintain a technological advantage over U.S. Navy warships.
One of the shortcomings of the 1143.5-project, and consequently the Liaoning, is its small aviation wing. The news story said that because of the Liaoning’s many missile systems, heavy planes can’t take-off; only light fighters can. This disadvantage has been inherited by the Shandong. Taken together, the disadvantages of the Shandong means this aircraft carrier “will primarily patrol coastal areas and not the ocean” because its small aircraft complement renders it more vulnerable to U.S. Navy aircraft and missile attacks.
The Liaoning looks impressive but is it?
Ameriforce.net wrote in their article “The Liaoning launches planes off a ski-jump-style deck because it lacks the catapults that US carriers have., This means the J-15 Flying Shark aircraft that take off from the Liaoning or the Type 001A can’t carry as much fuel or as many bombs as the US’s carrier-based planes can. This greatly limits their range and effectiveness in combat.” and it continues it’s evaluation by adding “The Admiral Kuznetsov, which the Liaoning and to some degree the Type 001A are based on, was Russia’s sole aircraft carrier. The ships have the same size and speed, and they both feature the ski-jump platform” and “The Kuznetsov, which carried out its first combat deployment in the Mediterranean bolstering the Syrian regime in 2016, has a troubled past plagued with mechanical difficulties. Everywhere it sails, a tugboat accompanies it in case it breaks down, as was the case in 2012.”
Ameriforce also adds a note about Indian carriers “China’s southern neighbor India operates two smaller aircraft carriers with a third in production, but they are more reliable. In 2014, the Liaoning experienced unexpected power failures while at sea.”
Indian’s don’t need to worry about “rapidly growing” Chinese capability in the high seas so much as the Chinese want us to. The coastal Chinese navy remains so and there is still time for it to go blue water, but we need to be alert and add to our forces. We need rapid improvement in our deployment strategies as well as add more muscle by going in for a better balanced CWG (carrier war group) besides using strategic assets like nuclear attack submarines and multi-role support vessels. A smart strategy would be to work with allies and share technologies and resources as CWGs are expensive and complex at the same time.
China uses smoke and mirrors too much but to underestimate the enemy is the most unwise thing to do, we need to be move vigilant about China in military matters than we are. We should leverage our own resources for this end, relying on inter-agency and allied information alone is never a great idea. Focus on Pakistan has taken away the attention from China, the attention it very much deserves.