(From the National Interest)
By James Goldrick
China has at last formally acknowledged that it has a new aircraft carrier under construction, the first to be built in China and the second in the People’s Liberation Army-Navy’s order of battle.
The PLA Navy appears to have embarked on a substantial carrier program, probably with the intention of creating four and perhaps up to six carrier battle groups (Chinese commentators have publicly acknowledged the need for at least three units in order to have an effective carrier capability). The rehabilitated ex-Russian carrier Liaoning, designated Carrier 16, has been the start of this effort, although its reliability has yet to be confirmed.
Experience gained with the ship will be used to evolve the follow-on units which are entering production. However, the challenge involved with these new carriers will not so much be the build, but the design. That the first new-built carrier will be in most respects a copy of the Soviet designed Liaoning should be no surprise. This is China’s only practicable course of action if it is to get another unit into service in good time.
The PLA Navy was able to extract eight truckloads of detailed plans of theLiaoning from the Ukrainian vendors. These will have to be the foundation of the present activity because China is now facing the same reality that has dogged the efforts of all the major navies of the last century. The greatest restraint on naval expansion in the industrial age has been neither budgets nor disarmament treaties. It has in fact been the lack of drafting expertise to translate the design concepts of naval architects into the detailed compartment-by-compartment drawings that allow the shipbuilders to do their work (arguably, this has been a key problem for Australia with the new Air Warfare Destroyers). The scale of the effort involved is demonstrated by the report that the Liaoning‘s documentation amounted to many tons of paper. Read more