A naval honor guard at the in 2012 on board the Liaoning. Xinhua News Agency Photo
China’s acquisition of its first operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has generated headlines of late. Those reports have included questions about how many additional carriers Beijing intends acquiring.
Air power is crucial to naval power, and Chinese officers have long expressed interest in acquiring aircraft carriers. Many reports of People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) carrier construction were published during the final quarter of the last century; President Jiang Zemin may have given the Navy permission to begin carrier design in the mid-1990s. Read More
Chinese President Xi Jinping
China’s head of state has always sought to label his regime with a maxim designed to both inspire and define his new national policies. The new president, Xi Jinping, apparently has adopted—in that respect—fulfilling “China’s dream,” described in China’s Communist Party newspaper as “the greatest dream of modern times is realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation . . . to achieve national prosperity, revitalization of the nation and its people’s happiness.” Xi has not directly included in his “dream” a rigid insistence on all of the nation’s sovereignty claims, most particularly those in the East and South China Seas, but there is no indication that he will diverge from this position, established in Beijing under his direction of the government organization (the Leading Small Group) responsible for these maritime issues. Read More
The first look at video of Chinese carrier operations recently released shows China has been paying attention to the way flight deck operations are safely conducted by the U.S. and other navies. Flight deck crew personnel jersey colors and hand signals are similar to international standards. There seem to be two sailors at every position, indicating that one of them is “under instruction.” There seems little doubt that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is above the aircraft carrier learning curve, albeit in good weather and basic operations. Potential material problems lie in Liaoning’s very long construction period, which likely have resulted in significant structural problems, and with its pressure-fired steam propulsion system, which historically has been difficult to maintain and operate efficiently.
An undated photograph onboard the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning during a take-off and landing test. Xinhua News Agency Photo
China’s Carrier History
Beijing first acquired an aircraft carrier in 1985, when it bought the ex-Australian Melbourne. Engineers studied the World War II-designed ship in detail before it was scrapped. Next, during the 1990s came two former Soviet aircraft carriers—Minsk and Kiev—both purchased to serve as theme park attractions in China. Those ships were actually called “heavy aviation cruisers” by Moscow, so the first modern aircraft carrier to arrive in China was another ex-Soviet ship, the Varyag.