China’s “Starter Carrier”

Here are some thoughts on the significance of China’s new aircraft carrier that Andrew Erickson, an expert on the PLAN at the U.S. Naval War College, passed on to Defense Tech. While China’s “starter carrier” may not compare to one of the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz class supercarriers, it will make waves with China’s neighbors in the Western Pacific. Enjoy.

China’s Navy has finally realized its longtime dream of obtaining an aircraft carrier and putting it to sea. It has been a long road from the Guomindang’s 1929 rejection of naval commander Chen Shaokuan’s proposal for building a Chinese aircraft carrier to the acquisition and refitting of the former Ukrainian carrier Varyag in Dalian Naval Shipyard, a task essentially as complex as building a carrier from scratch.

On August 10, 82 years after Adm. Chen’s proposal, China’s first carrier disappeared into the fog under tight security at 0540 local time from Dalian Harbour’s Xianglujiao Port in northeast Liaoning Province to begin sea trials. Liaoning Maritime Safety Authority has declared a temporary exclusion zone in a rectangular sea area nearby.

A newly-wed couple wants a ‘starter home,’ a new great power wants a ‘starter carrier.’ China’s ‘starter carrier’ is of very limited military utility, and will serve primarily to confer prestige though naval diplomacy, to help master basic operational procedures, and to project a bit of power—perhaps especially vis-à-vis smaller neighbours in the South China Sea. Having avoided the winds and waves recently sent to the Yellow Sea by Typhoon Muifa, the carrier will subject China to even more diplomatic turbulence as its neighbors react to the reality that their giant neighbour now has a basically-functioning carrier. …

Erickson also tells DT that we may have be wrong in thinking the ex-Varyag is going to be commissioned as the Shi Lang (a Chinese admiral who first conquored Taiwan). Instead, the ship may well be named after the Chinese city of Tianjin in keeping with PLAN tradition.

One detail–I don’t think the carrier will be named Shi Lang when commissioned. I think the name “ex-Varyag” is more accurate for now. Sounds clunky, I know. If you want to speculate based on traditional PLAN nomenclature, I believe it’s likely to be named after a large city, probably one of China’s 4 municipalities, with Tianjin perhaps the leading candidate based on Internet “rumint.”

For Erickson’s more detailed post on the ship, check out his recent piece at China Sign Post.

  • ew-3

    China’s neighbors just need to invest in a few conventional subs.
    It’ll take China 20 to 30 years to develop enough ASW skills to protect that target.

  • blight

    Time to buy lots of Shkvals and anti-ship CM’s from Russia for psychological security.

  • Robert

    Sounds like the PLAN is playing socialical games with its neighbors as it tries work out the bugs out of the “Shi Lang” or whatever they’ll really call it.

  • Black Owl

    Now if they actually knew how to use that equipment we might have something to worry about.

  • Lance

    Its a piece of crap I don’t get this fear over a crappy small carrier. What we need to do is sell the Philippines and Taiwan older Kitty Hawk class super carriers and A-4 and F-18s for them, make it a even playing ground then.

  • Jayson

    No one knows if their stealth planes can even land or take off from it. I’m sure there will be a ton of accidents and a bunch of them going deep six and become artificial reefs somewhere out there. I’m sure it’ll be a good 10+ years before they are proficient having aircraft on it.

    They can do tech real well, but it ‘ll be awhile to have the technique.

    • Tri-ring

      They can’t. The J-20s are too big and too heavy to fly off a ski jump, in fact their J-15 will be severely limited due to the weight restriction in taking off from a ski jump like the Russians with their Su-33.
      It is going to take quite a while for PRC to come up with a proper operation manual just to run the ship not to mention the time to train their people according to that manual.

      • Riceball

        Plus, I don’t think the J-20s were ever intended as naval aircraft anyway. It’s been pretty widely speculated/acknowledged that they’ll be flying a navalized Su-20 variant of their ex-Varyag.

    • Riceball

      That’s the whole reason for the ex-Varyag, to learn how to run and operate an aircraft carrier. It seems a lot of people aren’t reading these article very thoroughly, this carrier is not meant as an end game nor as a challenge to our Nimitz’s, it’s only the first step to developing their own carrier fleet as well something to use to show the flag and to intimidate their smaller neighbors; nowhere has China nor any bloggers, or the US military ever suggested that this carrier is the end all be all to China’s naval/military ambitions and that they don’t still have a ways to go before they can begin to rival the US Navy.

  • Hehe


  • Plee

    China only has one yet-to-be operational aircraft carrier. US have 11+. It is really a long way for countering US’s threat. Therefore, China should use the money & resourses to develop & build about the same number of nuclear warheads that US have. Because, I strongly believe the notion of mutual destruction is the only way to prevent the US to invade or at least to threat China.

  • Tim

    I would love to compare the US Navy’s idea of what a “Fully Operational Carrier” is compared to the above.

    Yet again more people suffering from what I call the ” Firefox” syndrome.

  • Fighterfanboy

    KAAAA-BBBOOOMMMMM !!!!!!! 16-2000 lbs. Jdams come out off sky from some unseen stealth aircraft. No more aircraft carrier. 10 years of work, Puff! Stealth one, Carrier zero!

  • Chris

    Makes a easy target for subs. Doubt they can protect it – would likely be sunk at its moorings for all the good it will do them.

  • voz

    It wont’t be used in any warfare I presumed, it’s more or less a psychological symbol and a pursuit of achievement. The Chinese knows it’s not going to work in a major warfare, not even to fight an US sub… But it’s a great start to them. When it comes to the fifth AC, American should watch out carefully because it should mean something.

  • wayne

    Hello… its made in China….. wont last long….

  • Vu Le

    With Japan and Taiwan in the north and the Flips on the side, all that is needed now is to ally with Vietnam in the south. We can really put pressure on them to be nice.

  • Mike

    I find it very worrisome. Here’s my short rendition of how a war breaks out through miss-steps.