11 August 2011

Bradley Perrett and Chris Buckley in Aviation Week: “China Begins Carrier Sea Trials, But Has Far To Go”

Bradley Perrett and Chris Buckley,China Begins Carrier Sea Trials, But Has Far To Go,” Aviation Week, 10 August 2011.

China has joined the aircraft carrier club, with the ex-Soviet ship Varyag beginning its sea trials Aug. 10.

The long-awaited debut of the vessel marks a step forward in China’s long-term plan to build a carrier force that can project power in the Asian region, where seas are spanned by busy shipping lanes and thorny territorial disputes.

The ship, completed at the northern port of Dalian after its hull was bought from Ukraine, will be used mainly for training pilots and deck crews, the Chinese military says.

Before it can undertake even that auxiliary role, the Varyag needs to be run through its paces to confirm its performance as a ship, especially in regard to the operation of its machinery. The first trial voyage is unlikely to be adventurous; the Associated Press reports that the maritime authority covering the Dalian district has cordoned off a small section of sea near the port until Aug. 14. …

Before the launch, a Pentagon spokesman played down the likelihood of any immediate leaps from China’s carrier program. U.S. experts on the Chinese navy agreed.

“A newlywed couple wants a ‘starter home;’ a new great power wants a ‘starter carrier,’” Andrew Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College and Gabriel Collins, a security analyst, wrote in a note about the carrier launch. “China’s ‘starter carrier’ is of very limited military utility and will primarily serve to confer prestige on a rising great power, to help the military master basic procedures and to project a bit of power.”

For the latest on the ex-Varyag’s sea trials, see Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, “China Realizes Carrier Dream,” The Diplomat, 10 August 2011.

For the longer analysis on which that 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.