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China Could Field its First Carrier in 2011

by John Reed on December 31, 2010

Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone!

Here’s one more example of new China’s fast modernizing military tech. Smoke coming from the stack of ex-Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag (now the Shi Lang) that’s being rapidly converted into what’s assumed to be China’s first operational carrier. The ship’s come a long way in the last 10 years.

Just last week, Reuters reported that the PLAAN was planning (oh, stupid pun!) to launch the ship in 2011; a full year ahead of U.S. intelligence estimates.

China may be ready to launch its first aircraft carrier in 2011, Chinese military and political sources said on Thursday, a year ahead of U.S. military analysts’ expectations.

Analysts expect China to use its first operational aircraft carrier to ensure the security of its oil supply route through the Indian Ocean and near the disputed Spratly Islands, but full capability is still some years away.

“The period around July 1 next year to celebrate the (Chinese Communist) Party’s birthday is one window (for launch),” one source with ties to the leadership told Reuters, requesting anonymity because the carrier programme is one of China’s most closely guarded secrets.

The Defense Ministry spokesman’s office declined to comment.

The possible launch next year of the ex-Soviet aircraft carrier ‘Varyag’ for training, and testing technology, will be one step toward building an operating aircraft carrier group, analysts said.

The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence estimates the Varyag will be launched as a training platform by 2012, and China will have an operational domestically built carrier after 2015.

Yes, this is a relatively old ship and it takes years to master the art of effective carrier ops. Still, China is making serious gains in its military technology and we shouldn’t underestimate its learning curve as The Heritage Foundation’s Dean Cheng points out over at sister site, DoDBuzz.

Here are some more pics of the smoking ship.

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