17 April 2011

Wendell Minnick, Defense News: “Sea Trials Expected for China’s 1st Carrier”

Wendell Minnick, “Sea Trials Expected for China’s 1st Carrier,” Defense News, 18 April 2011.

TAIPEI — China is expected to begin harbor trials of its first aircraft carrier this summer, with near-sea and open-sea trials starting next year, a Taiwan defense official said.

But aircraft for the Soviet-built Varyag are not expected to be ready for at least two years, and escorts and support ships for a carrier battle group are at least five to 10 years off.

Photos of the Varyag indicate it is being outfitted with an active phased array radar, simi­lar to the U.S. Aegis radar system; a 30mm close-in weapon system; and the Chinese FL-3000 Flying Leopard air defense missile system. The deployment of the FL-3000 “would appear to be a logical Chinese approach to pursue defense in depth against opposing anti-ship cruise missiles,” said Andrew Erickson, a China defense analyst at the U.S. Navy War College.

Erickson said it’s not clear how operationally effective the Varyag will be.

“Mastering the complex system of systems in carrier-based, high-intensity, operations capable air power that is a modern operational aircraft carrier will likely require considerable time, investment and even risk to valuable pilots and aircraft,” he said.


Erickson said a Chinese carrier would likely only “serve as a target” if a limited war broke out with a high-tech adversary such as the U.S. or Japan — that is, “a Taiwan scenario.” But he said a carrier might seem more intimidating to neighbors in the South China Sea, which China has declared a core national interest.