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A Chinese Carrier for ‘Science’

by John Reed on August 1, 2011

I’m not sure if the image above showing smoke coming from the funnel of China’s aircraft carrier Shi Lang is Photoshopped or not but one thing is for certain, the ship is close to being put to sea. Also check out the photo at the end of this post of her meatball Optical Landing System (and what appear to be cameras to document landings). These images, along with pictures of her lights running, jet blast deflectors up, weapons mounted and construction gear removed, paint a picture of a carrier that will indeed be operational soon.

(Note that you can see life raft pods along the rails in the picture above.)

Still, you’ve got to laugh at the Chinese government’s latest claim that the ship is going to be used for scientific purposes. Yes, one of the world’s most badass types of weapons is going to be used for scientific research. Oh, and military training, lots of military training.

Here’s a very carefully worded article (or should I say press release?) from China’s state-run Xinhua news agency about the Shi Lang. It’s got some very telling sentences that hint at china’s ambition to deploy the carrier operationally around the world; from pacific ocean sea lanes to the Arabian sea:

BEIJING, July 27 (Xinhua) — The Defense Ministry officially confirmed Wednesday that China was pursuing an aircraft carrier program aimed at refitting an imported carrier as a platform for scientific research, experiment and training.

It appears China is a long way off having a carrier with real fighting capacity since developing and building this type of vessel is a long and complicated process.

Even if China does equip its naval force with a carrier, it is unlikely to have much of an impact on the world, given a traditional military power such as the United States has 11 in service, and even lesser powers, such as Thailand, Brazil and India, each have one.

China, with an estimated total coastline of more than 10,000 km to defend and long, busy sea lanes to secure for the flow of materials and manufactured goods in and out of the country, is entitled to an aircraft carrier.

Apart from its need for national defense, the program will better serve China’s purpose of international cooperation against maritime crimes, including the fight against Somali pirates.

Chinese navy fleets had by June escorted 3,953 ships from countries all over the world through the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia, among which 47 percent were foreign commercial ships.

The carrier program will gear up China for a bigger role in peaceful cooperation worldwide.

Here’s the rest of the article over at China Defense Blog.

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

TLAM Strike August 1, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Unconfirmed but it looks like the PRC Navy just had a reactor accident on a nuclear sub: http://ex-skf.blogspot.com/2011/07/japanese-milit

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brian August 1, 2011 at 12:16 pm

I agree, Chinese scientists are certainly anxious to find out how many bombs does it take to force Taiwan to submit to their rule

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Jay August 2, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Agreed, and they are also doing political and economic research on how to intimidate and manipulate the US leadership into not intervening when they bomb Taiwan.

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CSZ August 1, 2011 at 12:34 pm

There's nothing wrong about calling this vessel a training and research carrier. The experience and know-how of carrier operation, deck management, collaboration with escort ships…all these take decades to master. Military science is still science. Management, scheduling, logistics…all science.

The reason why PLAN is so low-key about this carrier is exactly because they know what it is capable of now – nothing. I bet my money that this vessel is not going to see any action other than training in the west pacific, south china sea and humanitarian missions.

You should really be wary about the next two carriers China is building – now these are the real deal.

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Spc Grunt August 1, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I like how careful they are to downplay basically every military advancement they make.

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brianckramer August 1, 2011 at 12:50 pm

China doesn't need an old-ass aircraft carrier to destroy Taiwan 10x over. Which is good for them, because this thing is a piece of shit.

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TLAM Strike August 1, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Aside from the power plant this carrier is probably better than France's lone flattop. Which makes this carrier possibly the best non American carrier in the world.

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brianckramer August 1, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Thailands' Chakri Naruebet was built between 1992 and 1996, which makes it about a decade younger, with better maintenance and upkeep to be sure. Italy also has the Cavour, which was commissioned in 2008.

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TLAM Strike August 1, 2011 at 1:40 pm

The Chakri Naruebet almost never goes to sea and its old Harriers (AV-8A type) are in storage last I heard. The Chakri Naruebet is basically a royal yacht.

While the Shi Lang is "old" she has been most likely totally gutted and rebuilt from her previous (unused) state.

The Cavour while a new ship is not in the same class as the Kuznetsov class carriers. She carries an air wing of only 20 with normally only 8 Harriers II. The Shi Lang has/will have almost three times as many fighters, and fighters of a superior type.

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chaos0xomega August 1, 2011 at 1:25 pm

As opposed to this carriers sister ship in Russia?

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TLAM Strike August 1, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Allow me to rephrase the Kuznetsov class carriers (the Kuznetsov and Shi Lang) are arguably the best non American carriers in the world.

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brianckramer August 1, 2011 at 1:49 pm

I'll stick with proven use over speculation anyday. the chinese don't even have an aircraft to fly off this yet, or pilots to fly them if they did. I'll take Harrier II's over an invisible airwing anyday.

PMI August 3, 2011 at 11:03 am

"Arguably" …sure it's not an argument that would be made by anyone who ever really paid attention to what the Soviet's were actually capable of using those carriers.

The Cavour is almost certainly more capable in an operational sense than the ex-Varyag. Running high tempo carrier ops has a steep learning curve, one that the Soviets were never able to really get ahead of.

The Chinese certainly understand that and aren't going to be running strike ops off of their new flattop anytime soon (if ever). This is a training carrier to help them learn the ropes. In and of itself it isn't a concern, it's the long term ramifications that are a potential threat. Baby steps.

Tom August 2, 2011 at 9:43 am

The fact that Charles de Gaulle has catapults makes it a more effective carrier in my opinion, allowing it to operate a broader range of aircraft such as the E-2.

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blight August 4, 2011 at 9:31 am

They'll probably stick to the Soviet school of operating lots of long range land aircraft in maritime roles, limiting the ability of their carriers to operate far from shore.

They can figure all this out for their future flat-top…

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Matt August 1, 2011 at 1:45 pm

10 barreled Gatling gun………OF SCIENCE!

Nice try China but with all the personnal data sharing options available, state-run propaganda news that tells outright lies almost seems like a sad relic…

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John Moore August 1, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Hate to be a punk working on that deck under that smoke, I guess it should make it easier to find.

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Have some sense August 1, 2011 at 2:09 pm

The paranoia this blog has towards China is actually so amusing and highly worrying as to the state of intelligence and ignorance of the American mind.
2 words for you in regards to a massive new super power upgrading its out of date forces – CHILL OUT

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STemplar August 2, 2011 at 3:44 am

About as amusing and worrying as sweeping and prejudicial statements by one person about the mind set of an entire nation. A person who pretends to be on higher moral ground and lectures people as to the value of their opinions. I have one word for you, HYPOCRITE.

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Mastro August 1, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I guess they didn't translate the bit about using it for shows of force against the Spratley Island competitors?

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Lance August 1, 2011 at 3:20 pm

The main thing is that China is using older aircraft for its carrier SU-33 are NOT new and are not Stealth or multirole But if they buy newer types like J-15s or MiG-29Ks might make there carriers more formidable.

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Cranky Observer August 1, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Looks like there might still be a bit of tuning to do on that boiler!

Cranky

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blight August 1, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Guess the hotel/casino thing didn't work out, unless this is a research hotel or a training casino.

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William C. August 1, 2011 at 6:32 pm

It would still make the best movie about robbing a casino ever.

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Uncle Bill August 1, 2011 at 8:25 pm

In most of the world ships in port burn clearner burning fuel and use the smoky bunker fuel for offshore. I say photoshop. And, as noted, makes no real difference.

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IKnowIT August 1, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Jeezzz… what are they burning in there? Freaking tires?

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blight August 1, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Cheap fuel still burns. Besides, it's not like there are environmental rules when it comes to the military.

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IknowIT August 2, 2011 at 8:54 am

Esp in China… Ever seen pics of the smog there?

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blight August 2, 2011 at 10:01 am

It's nasty. It makes Los Angeles look clean (and this is when I remember red flag warning days)

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John B August 1, 2011 at 11:02 pm

The difference between china and other countries possessing aircraft carriers is in its aggressive stance. Do we know or have any idea if they are going to launch or retrieve aircrafts in this trail run ?

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blight August 2, 2011 at 12:23 am

Not sure why they're burning such crappy easy-to-track fuel…especially if there is a potential of combat use. A hydrocarbon sensor (like the P-8 is supposed to have) can just follow the trail, or worse, the eyeball.

Not exactly hiding on the high seas.

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Dean August 2, 2011 at 12:58 am

Of course let us forget completely how often US Navy trolls China's front door in the name of scientific research. 'Oceanographic' research, 'atmospheric' research, when everyone knows we're actually spying on them. To China naval deployment as 'scientific research' is a perfectly reasonable pretext, look how often we do it.

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Brian Black August 2, 2011 at 4:19 am

China and it’s new(ish), apparently coal fired, carrier is not the threat to the US that some folks would like you to think. Many of China’s aims, such as the security of trade and shipping, will match those of the US.
As for Taiwan, many people there do want economic and political ties with China, and are less preoccupied with thoughts of invasion than some people on this site.
China will increasingly engage in world affairs, get used to it. You can work with China – but insist on looking for enemies, and you will find them everywhere.

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blight August 2, 2011 at 10:02 am

Why coal?

By the way, there are subtypes of coal, some cleaner than others. Anthracite and bituminous coal burn differently…

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blight August 2, 2011 at 12:15 pm

And agreed on the rest. China can't sit on its laurels and hope the world will police its commerce lines for them. The Straits used to be the piracy hotbed before Somalia, and as trade with Europe increases there will be more movement through that area. Additionally, importing oil from the ME will bring tankers in conflict with Somalia.

It won't be long before China uses its leverage in Africa or the MidEast for basing rights. PLAAN base in Yemen, anyone?

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Richard S August 2, 2011 at 10:58 am

After nine years of work, it would appear that the PRC is about ready to send the old girl, originally a partially completed 1980's-vintage Kuznetsov-class carrier named "Varyag," belching her way out to sea under a new name and national flag. I wonder if her first assignment will involve meandering along toward the Taiwan Strait to blow some smoke for the benefit of the ROC.

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Byron Skinner August 2, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Good Morning Folks,

Didn’t anyone notice the smoke. It would seem that China’s indigenous power plant is something salvaged out of an old “Liberty Ship”.

ALLONS,
Byron Skinner

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Roland August 2, 2011 at 3:35 pm

It does have 4 missile system. It looks dangerous.
http://www.jeffhead.com/redseadragon/varyagtransf

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joe August 3, 2011 at 6:35 am

In the words of GLADOS: "We're doing science…."

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Klee August 3, 2011 at 10:54 am

Why do we need to be so fussy about a single aircraft carrier from China since US have 11 carriers, 2 more on the way, one is "USS Gerald Ford" and in a distant future the new "USS JFK". Did China raise any wars in the last 10 years vs. US having 3 on-going. China military is still 20+ years behind US. This country has more than 14 trillion in debt and still want to maintain world dominance. it will have more than 16 trillion in debt after the debt ceiling raise. US should not muddle in Southeast Asia matters. Maybe US still have not learned the lession from the Vietnam war yet!!!

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Jim Asbury August 4, 2011 at 8:51 am

This is a big waste of money. The Chinese are getting caught up in the same trap that ruined the Soviets. The Chinese leaders are planning for this glorious fantasy future as a superpower that doesn't have the U.S.A. or India in it, to mess things up, a future where all of the lesser nations of the world herald China as the defacto global grand poobah of everyone. It's total bull crap. China is a baby nation. It has a untested political system and a volatile xenophobic population that it can barely keep under it's strict control and it thinks it needs to flex it's muscles with a rusty antique piece of 20th century war technology.

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blight August 4, 2011 at 9:30 am

You're quite right, and that's why many of us aren't sure if China is seriously intending to challenge the United States, or is simply building up defensive deterrence to ensure it isn't messed with by Russia or the United States.

Hitler and the Soviets were partners in the pre-WW2 era; and hardliners here in the United States and in the PRC have noted the relationship between the US and the PRC and can't help but wonder if we are in similar straits (though without the overt tech transfers). Are we allies by convenience and need? Will we fight?

China has too much to lose, and faces ruinous occupation if it provokes the west. They need more time, and if anything they would meet their security needs by turning nations like the Phillippines, Japan or South Korea on non-aligned paths unwedded to the United States. Without forward basing in Okinawa, Japan and South Korea, the PRC is actually quite secure from first strike.

Then again, if the PRC were serious about pleasing its Asian neighbors, they would've have thrown North Korea under the bus by now.

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Chimp August 4, 2011 at 10:31 am

That's the real question, isn't it… is the PRC *really* dreaming of being number one, or are they taking a more complicated view of the future? I suspect the latter.

The comment about "they need time" is spot on. It's not necessarily time to arm, but more like time to get over the developmental hump without the whole country imploding. The other thing that time will do is allow a few folk who are stuck in the 60's to die off. The newer generation of leaders are generally more pragmatic and less ideologically driven than the older ones.

Drop North Korea, and the old party guys in the army will shoot you and take over, leading to massive social unrest and the country imploding.

Make nice with Japan and the old party guys in the army AND the government will shoot you and take over, also leading to the country imploding.

Under the guise of modernising the PLA, the political leadership have taken back a degree of control over the army. The PLA is still by far the biggest threat China faces, but it's (probably) less serious than it was.

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peace lover September 22, 2011 at 5:51 pm

A well come development for all peace loving in the world..A good signal that china is closely contesting US military and economic supremacy.I wish the the best to check mate US global aggression.

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TLAM Strike August 1, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Defense Tech did post photos of China's J-15 carrier fighter a while back: http://defensetech.org/2011/04/25/new-images-of-c

China has a shore base with a carrier mockup for training pilots, and photos just came to light showing China's new training jet has a arrester hook.

China is getting the planes and is training the pilots. Like it or not China is getting a carrier, they are getting it soon and its going to be a good vessel.

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brianckramer August 1, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Getting the pieces together and using them effectively are two very different things, I'd say 10 more years until this is a real threat to anyone. Couple the Chinese ability to make almost nothing work correctly, even proven designs carbon-copied from the west, with their inexperience and old soviet equipment, this is a big "meh" to me.

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blight August 2, 2011 at 10:00 am

It depends a lot on how intensely they have been going at training over all these years. The PLA isn't exactly open, and a lot goes on that is not immediately apparent to the civilian world.

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STemplar August 2, 2011 at 10:07 am

http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11421.pdf

For those interested in GAO's findings. Summary says the Pentagon should be more specific is setting goals and providing guidance. Given Stuxnet I'm not sure "sucks" is particularly accurate.

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