15 August 2011

Michael Wines, New York Times: “China Begins Sea Trials of Its First Aircraft Carrier”

Michael Wines, China Begins Sea Trials of Its First Aircraft Carrier,” New York Times, 10 August 2011.

BEIJING — China’s first aircraft carrier began sea trials on Wednesday, the state-run Xinhua news service reported, a highly symbolic step in what is certain to be an effort of many years to create a carrier presence in the Pacific waters off its coast. …

China has long been rumored to have more aircraft carriers under construction in a Shanghai shipyard, but most Chinese military matters are tightly held secrets, and that report has yet to be confirmed. Military experts say that a naval force needs a minimum of three carriers to maintain a constant sea presence because at any one time a single vessel is likely to be docked for repairs or modernization. …

Many experts say the carrier is unlikely to deploy a fighter force until after 2015 because landing a jet on an aircraft carrier is a highly dangerous maneuver that requires years of training. In a blog entry posted on Tuesday, an expert on the Chinese military, Andrew S. Erickson, cited Pentagon figures showing that the United States Navy and Marines together lost nearly 12,000 aircraft and 8,500 crew members from 1949 to 1988, including 776 planes and 535 crew members in 1954 alone.

Not all those aircraft were based on carriers, but the rate of accidents for carrier-based planes was higher than that of the entire seagoing force.

“Even a less-aggressive carrier operator than the U.S. is almost certain to suffer substantial unexpected losses of aircraft and crew as it works to build its operational knowledge and human capital,” Mr. Erickson wrote. “Clearly the first Chinese carrier aviators and ship captains face steep challenges ahead.”

For coverage of 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.