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China Wants a Four Carrier Navy, Maybe

An undated photograph onboard the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning during a take-off and landing test. Xinhua News Agency Photo

An undated photograph onboard the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning during a take-off and landing test. Xinhua News Agency Photo

China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has designs on a force of four aircraft carriers, according to statements from Chinese officials in Chinese state media that were later deleted.

Liaoning party chief Wang Min told a local legislative body on Saturday construction had begun on a second carrier in the Dalian shipyard and the PLAN ultimately planned to build four carriers in comments reported in state media that were subsequently taken down, according a report in the South China Morning Post.

Wang said the second carrier could be completed in six years.
The statements and their pull back are indicative of inconstancies in China’s expressed intentions for their future forces

In 2010 China said to begin a major carrier construction plan contained in a footnote as part of the hundreds of pages long 2010 Ocean Development Report.

“In 2009, China put forward an idea and plan for building aircraft carriers. These indicate China has entered the historical era of building a maritime superpower,” read a translation of the report.

The inclusion of the carrier plan — buried in a public document — was viewed largely as an ineffectual attempt of transparency.

Likewise, Wang’s statement is thought to be less of a message to the international maritime community and more of a communication to locals on the ability of China’s shipyards to be able to meet the challenge of constructing conventionally built carriers.

“Wang’s public disclosure of a second carrier being built in Dalian could be seen as a pitch for PLA military business,” reported Jane’s Defence Weekly in a Tuesday analysis of the announcement.
“Wang represents the interests of the Dalian-area carrier construction complex, which also includes China’s first carrier air wing testing training base and submarine- and future ship-based nuclear propulsion development institutes.”

Wang also mentioned the construction of two 052D guided missile destroyers.
The aircraft carriers are expected to be similar to existing PLAN carrier Liaoning, which underwent an extensive refit in Dalian.

“Dalian is expected to produce a ski-jump or short take-off but arrested landing (STOBAR) carrier similar to Liaoning. The shipyard is a logical first choice due to its deep familiarity with Liaoning and the proximity of much of China’s aircraft carrier support infrastructure,” the Jane’s report.

A four-carrier force could indicate the Chinese plan to eventually have at least one standing carrier strike group on patrol at any given time.

Images of Chinese carrier operations indicate that they have incorporated much of the U.S. and allies techniques in operating carriers — down to the color of the uniforms for flight deck crew.

Taken a step further, the four-carrier force would mimic the U.S. ratio for carrier’s operations. — three in port to one at sea.

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Categories: Budget Industry, Foreign Forces, Surface Forces
Sam LaGrone

About USNI News Editor

Sam LaGrone is the USNI Online Editor at the U.S. Naval Institute.
He was formerly the U.S. Maritime Correspondent for the Washington D.C. bureau of Jane’s Defence Weekly and Jane’s Navy International. In his role he covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Sam is a 2003 graduate of Virginia Military Institute.

  • weed

    Good luck with those ski-jump carriers. Ski-jump = less power, therefore lighter planes with fewer munitions and less fuel, therefore less range, meaning: defeat.

    • @NotRizzo

      Depends who they are intended to fight, if they expect any number of carriers to go toe-to-toe with USN CVNs then they are delusional, but if they want to intimidate their neighbors (Vietnam, Korea or The Phillipines) or potentially win a regional conflict with Japan or India then this fits the bill very nicely.

  • NeilMarshall

    The Liaoning will never be a threat to the West – China will have to skip two generations of carrier design and find a viable airframe for a cats launch before we worry over-much.

    • @NotRizzo

      Depends on how you define “West”, China doesn’t need to defeat the USN at sea, if they can show clear dominance over their neighbors, then the calculation for those countries is dependent on their view of the USA’s resolve, if they fear they could be left to their own defense at any point they will be far more likely to appease the Chinese on trade and territorial disputes. This is why Japan and India are moving toward an alliance, they need a buffer between defending their soveriegnty themselves and what they believe the US will do to protect them.

      • LaxinTaiwan

        I completely agree with that assessment. A carrier isn’t even required for effective A2/AD that could raise the cost for US involvement to the point that our allies and security partners begin to question US resolve and commitment. Clearly, there is a preference within the region to balance China but without US support, at least smaller countries sharing land borders with China may be forced to accommodate China. Of course, distraction along China’s border with Russia, India, and/or the CARs would also make balancing more effective.

  • Pat Patterson

    Let’s see what a couple of MK-48’s ADCAPS would.

  • Kopernicus

    No one knows how to sink carriers better than we do.

    Until China has the technology to find a Los Angeles or Virginia Class submarine let them waste their money.

    Four carriers to launch Su-27s with virtually no weapons and a 150 mile range? An SBD Dauntless from WWII has better combat punch (non-catapult take-off with a 2000 lb bomb) and longer range.

    Now there is a thought. An SBD Dauntless with 2 AIM-9Xs under the wings and a GPS guided JDAM….

    • C43

      I like the way you think.