10 August 2011

China Realizes Carrier Dream

Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, China Realizes Carrier Dream,” The Diplomat, 10 August 2011.

Following is a guest entry from Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, co-founders of China Sign Post.

China’s Navy has finally realized its longtime dream of obtaining an aircraft carrier and putting it to sea. It has been a long road from the Guomindang’s 1929 rejection of naval commander Chen Shaokuan’s proposal for building a Chinese aircraft carrier to the acquisition and refitting of the former Ukrainian carrier Varyag in Dalian Naval Shipyard, a task essentially as complex as building a carrier from scratch.

On August 10, 82 years after Adm. Chen’s proposal, China’s first carrier disappeared into the fog under tight security at 0540 local time from Dalian Harbour’s Xianglujiao Port in northeast Liaoning Province to begin sea trials. Liaoning Maritime Safety Authority has declared a temporary exclusion zone in a rectangular sea area nearby.

A newly-wed couple wants a ‘starter home,’ a new great power wants a ‘starter carrier.’ China’s ‘starter carrier’ is of very limited military utility, and will serve primarily to confer prestige though naval diplomacy, to help master basic operational procedures, and to project a bit of power—perhaps especially vis-à-vis smaller neighbours in the South China Sea. Having avoided the winds and waves recently sent to the Yellow Sea by Typhoon Muifa, the carrier will subject China to even more diplomatic turbulence as its neighbours react to the reality that their giant neighbour now has a basically-functioning carrier. …

Further Reading:

For the longer analysis on which this post is based, see Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “China’s ‘Starter Carrier’ Goes to Sea,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 43 (9 August 2011).

For an assessment of the larger implications of China’s deck aviation development, see Abraham M. Denmark, Andrew S. Erickson, and Gabriel Collins, “Should We Be Afraid of China’s New Aircraft Carrier? Not yet.,” Foreign Policy, 27 June 2011.

For operational aspects of China’s first carrier-capable aircraft, see Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “Flying Shark” Gaining Altitude: How might new J-15 strike fighter improve China’s maritime air warfare ability?,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 38 (7 June 2011).

For drivers and constraints concerning Chinese deck aviation, see Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “The ‘Flying Shark’ Prepares to Roam the Seas: Strategic pros and cons of China’s aircraft carrier program,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 35 (18 May 2011).

For relevant defense industrial factors, see Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “LNG Carriers to Aircraft Carriers? Assessing the potential for crossover between civilian and military shipbuilding in China,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 12 (18 December 2010).

For an early assessment of Chinese aircraft carrier options, see Andrew S. Erickson and Andrew R. Wilson, “China’s Aircraft Carrier Dilemma,” Naval War College Review, 59. 4 (Autumn 2006): 13-45.