28 March 2012

Troubled Waters: the Implications of China’s First Aircraft Carrier

Ashley Townshend and Shashank Joshi, Troubled Waters: the Implications of China’s First Aircraft Carrier,” Commentary, Royal United Services Institute, 16 August 2011.

Far from transforming Asia’s naval balance, the launch of China’s first aircraft carrier will only begin to expose China to the rigours of modern naval warfare. The region should respond to the strategic ripples by steering carefully between complacency and alarmism.

The seas have always had a special pull on strategy. From 1898 to 1912, Germany’s five Naval Laws saw it establish a fleet of battleships intended to secure the country’s ‘place in the sun’. Britain, sensing the Royal Navy’s supremacy was coming under threat, quickly stitched up alliances with Russia, France, and Japan. A decade later, Japan launched the world’s first purpose-built aircraft carrier, the Hôshô, from a dockyard in Yokohama. The Imperial Japanese Navy not only matched the United States Navy for total displacement by 1940, but a year later it also launched the Yamato, a battleship of unprecedented size and firepower.

The adoption of new and symbolic military technology by rising powers produces inevitable strategic ripples. China’s launch of the ex-Soviet carrier Varyag is no exception. But do its sea trials herald a Sputnik moment for the Indo-Pacific? And is the refurbished Varyag actually capable of projecting Chinese sea-power throughout Indo-Pacific Asia?

A glance at the warship’s operational potential suggests there is little to fear about China’s first carrier. …

Click below for full text of articles cited:

Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, “China Deploys World’s First Long-Range, Land-Based ‘Carrier Killer’: DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Reaches ‘Initial Operational Capability’ (IOC),” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 14 (26 December 2010).

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 further background on Chinese aircraft carrier development, see also:

Andrew S. Erickson, Abraham M. Denmark, and Gabriel Collins, “Beijing’s ‘Starter Carrier’ and Future Steps: Alternatives and Implications,” Naval War College Review, 65.1 (Winter 2012): 14-54.

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).