Friday, September 15, 2017

China's Carrier Construction

The Chinese are embarked on a massive aircraft carrier building program.  Here’s a brief look at the current state of affairs.

Type 001.  This is the former Soviet Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier that eventually became the Chinese carrier Liaoning.  It arrived in China in March 2002.  The rebuilt Liaoning began sea trials in August 2011 and was commissioned in September 2012.

Type 001AChina has since initiated the construction of a domestically built Type 001A carrier which was launched in April 2017 and is now undergoing fitting out and trials (1).  Construction had begun in March 2015.  This carrier is, outwardly, a copy of the Liaoning with a ski ramp for aircraft launches.  The design is, no doubt, much improved over the Liaoning.  The ship is tentatively scheduled to be commissioned around the 2020 time frame.

Type 002.  A third carrier is under construction – begun in Feb 2016 - and is likely to be a conventional cat and trap carrier with a steam catapult.  The ship is reported to be around 85,000 tons.

Type 003.  A fourth carrier is reported to be under development as a 100,000+ ton, nuclear powered supercarrier that will feature EMALS launch systems and a fully functional air wing with AEW, EW, and tanker aircraft.


Admittedly, the first two carriers are not Nimitz class supercarriers by any stretch of the imagination.  The Type 002 will likely be equivalent to the early Forrestal class or the modernized Midway.  The Type 003 will probably be China’s attempt at a true supercarrier to rival the US Nimitz/Ford carriers.  The takeaway from this is not the number or quality of China’s carriers but the pace of development and construction.  China has gone from no carriers to multiple carriers in service, under construction, and under development in less than fifteen years.  That’s breathtaking when compared to the glacial pace of U.S. military development and construction.

Yes, China’s development efforts have been aided by massive technology acquisition efforts, both legal and illegal that have allowed China to make significant “unearned” leaps in technological expertise.  For example, China’s carrier development efforts have been aided by its acquisition of the former Australian carrier, HMAS Melbourne.  Reportedly, the Chinese used the Melbourne to reverse engineer the catapult system.  The salient point, though, is that however they’ve done it, the Chinese have embarked on a very rapid climb up the capability mountain.  It is the trend that should be worrisome rather than the current status.



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(1)China Defense Blog, “Construction of China's 1st homegrown aircraft carrier ahead of schedule”, 4-Sep-2017,


29 comments:

  1. Chinese Aircraft Carrier Development, What is New article below, includes pics of Huangdicun Airbase where they are testing their versions of steam and electromagnetic catapults.

    Navy is bankrupting itself with new nuclear Ford CVN class, the first of class the Ford costing $20+ billion including R&D.

    The UK building two carriers ~70,000 ton for ~$8.5 billion, $4+ billion each, assuming additional billion to convert from STOVL to CATOBAR should be possible to build conventional carrier for $5+ billion and break HII/NNS monopoly on building carriers.

    Though Congress authorized study for future conventional carrier, prospects are very unlikely as entrenched Navy/Congress/Industry interests would defeat actual buy as all Navy 'analysis' say nuclear many times more effective and value for money, LOL.

    https://astutenews.com/2016/12/24/chinese-aircraft-carrier-development-what-is-new/

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    1. UK is not going to be converting its carriers to catobar. They looked at Emals but that was out of the question. A steam catapult is impossible for a gas turbine ship

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  2. "The UK building two carriers ~70,000 ton for ~$8.5 billion, $4+ billion each, assuming additional billion to convert from STOVL to CATOBAR should be possible to build conventional carrier for $5+ billion and break HII/NNS monopoly on building carriers. "

    I'd be stunned if they could switch them to cats and traps for $1 billion. That's essentially a rebuild of the ship from what I've read. Steam catapults are embedded throughout the ship.

    As to the $5 billion, we were able to build CVN's for that. That's close to what the Nimitz class cost.

    The Ford class is a mess at almost double the price; and the follow ons in the class don't appear to be getting any cheaper. Why? I don't know.

    What I find interesting is that there are many who decry the end of the carrier and yet China is doing what it can to build a large fleet of them.

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    1. "I'd be stunned if they could switch them to cats and traps for $1 billion. That's essentially a rebuild of the ship from what I've read. Steam catapults are embedded throughout the ship."

      The 75,000 tonne French CATOBAR PA2 Porte-Avions 2, carrier was based on the UK QE class aircraft carriers with crew of 1,650. As UK had ruled out nuclear propulsion the French agreed to IFEP based on diesels and GTs for the operational and political gains from a common design. France cancelled it in 2013. (The earlier French 42,500 tonne nuclear propulsion Charles de Gaulle carrier was laid down in 1989, crew 1,950). The French currently talking/planning a new carrier the R 92 Colbert.

      "As to the $5 billion, we were able to build CVN's for that. That's close to what the Nimitz class cost."

      The last of the ten Nimitz class the USS George H.W. Bush ordered in 2001 was said to have cost on completion $6.2 billion, the crew complement reaches 5,680.  Would be amazed if NNS could build a Nimitz for $5 billion today.


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    1. "I have to laugh at the idea of "unearned" technological expertise. What does that even mean?"

      I was being diplomatic. It means stolen.

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    3. No one, least of all me, is concerned with the "unfairness" of China's "copying" or "theft" of intellectual property. The point is relevant only in the context of future Chinese developments. If we can recognize their methods of acquiring expertise and put a stop to it and force them to fall back on their own development efforts we can deny them easy advances and make them "earn" their advances with their own money, time, blood, sweat, and failures.

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  4. HMAS Melbourne WTF, who gave them that !?

    We sent the Invincible class to be turned into razor blades rather than sell to the Chinese.

    And they tried. to be turned into a floating casino they said. same line as the Liaoning.

    I will watch with interest. 3 ( effectively 4 ) different carrier classes in that time frame. if they make it work it will be staggering !

    Im starting to think they might tho

    Beno

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    2. Before we criticize Australia too heavily for aiding China's military developments, let's note that we (the US) are educating China's scientists and programmers in our universities, selling defense component companies to China, transferring much of our production technology to China, etc.

      We (the US, again) need to stop thinking of China as a trade partner and world neighbor and start thinking of them as an enemy and stop arming our enemy.

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  5. The America class CVLs cost 3.4bn$ each.
    Catrap version would be under 5bn$???

    Maybe the CIA can steal the Chinese EMALs design,
    after they get it to work.

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  6. I think it is worth noting that China's rise has come largely during the same time frame that we have been occupied with a series of "no win" wars in the Middle East. Never fight a war that you don't intend to win. For one reason (of many) it takes your eye off the ball of what is really important.

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    1. An astute observation. The US has violated many common sense "rules". One should never be involved in a multi-decade war and yet we are. Not only does it take your eye off what is important, as you say, it also, inevitably, refines the military into an instrument suited solely for the that one purpose. This has come back to bite us, now. We've become focused on, and suited for, a low intensity, infantry-centric style of warfare and have lost our high end combat capability, training, and equipment. Our development has focused on speed, lightness, mobility, and flexibility at the expense of armor, firepower, artillery, and high explosives.

      Good comment.

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  7. The situation in the uk is no better. The university in my local area(world famous for medical research) has a huge Chinese student body. Apart from uk nationals, they are by far the largest ethnic/national group.
    MA

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  8. Considering the advances China has made with their surface fleet, I'm not surprised at China's carrier developments. But, a carrier is only good as its airwing. How far along is China in that regard?

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    1. The J-15, which is the Chinese copy of the Su-33, is carrier capable and in service. It will likely be the aircraft of choice for the ski-jump carriers. I don't know what aircraft will be carried on the conventional carriers.

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    3. The Chinese's own statements about the J-15 in comparison to the Hornet are ambiguous. There are statements on record that claim the J-15 is superior, on-par, or inferior, in whole or in part, to the Hornet. My vague impression is that it is probably about on par, overall.

      There are (a few) specific claims that its combat launch load from a carrier is significantly weight limited, possibly due to less than optimal engines.

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  10. HMAS Melbourne was contructed as a WWII light fleet carrier and then constantly bodged throughout its ill-starred career.

    The retro-fitted steam catapult system was reliant on secondary boilers and for a clean sheet design would be a great example of how not to lay down an aircraft carrier.

    Letting the Chinese buy her to reverse engineer almost certainly set them back by many years.

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  11. Personally, I like the fact China is building carriers. It makes them waste resources on their construction and any carrier planes they build for them will be easier for attack then what their land based counter-parts can be.

    If we can sink them...

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    1. Hmmm ... I'm curious. China has been absolutely brilliant, so far, in their military build up and their geopolitical maneuverings. If carriers are such a bad idea, what do you think has made them suddenly so stupid?

      The one thing the anti-carrier crowd has never been able to explain is why every country that can afford carriers, builds them! Hmmm ...

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  12. Currently, China has one of the most impressive, layered defense networks in the world. Any resources not being allocated to that end, in my opinion, is good for the US. If they wish to leave the safety the range of their land base fighters and missile provide, to sortie carrier strikes, it is better for the US. We have a higher chance of destroying a large portion of their fleet and air wings, then if the had just focused on their defense and kept the PLAN as fleet-in-being.

    Carriers are not "stupid", nor am I an card carrying member of the anti-cv crowd. They stand much to lose, and from my perspective, little to gain from building them. That's my position.

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    1. "They stand much to lose, and from my perspective, little to gain from building them."

      Well, I and every country that can afford them would disagree with you which should make you pause and ask yourself why that is. That I and every country disagree with you doesn't mean you're wrong but it does mean that you should try to understand why you think you're right and why I/countries are wrong. Come up with a logical rationale for your belief and share it with me.

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  13. And yes, china has acted brilliantly in regards to their long-term strategy, repeatedly. It would not surprise me if their carriers are used in locations or ways that I couldn't fathomed.

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    1. "It would not surprise me if their carriers are used in locations or ways that I couldn't fathomed."

      And that, of course, is the challenge for US military planners - to anticipate how China will use its Navy and carriers and be prepared for it.

      I know you say can't anticipate but try engaging in speculation. How do you think China could use their carriers? They obviously see a purpose. What do you see and what does it mean for US military planning?

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    2. Personally, I foresee their use around the African continent. The amount of projects they have there plus the increasing military commitment they're investing, that's where I see them being employed in the short term.

      Long term, once they reach parity with us, lure our carriers in range of their mainland defenses and destroy them. Then attempt to leverage that advantage against us. But if they pull that off and get free reign across the pacific, they will have to contend with our submarines which as of now, their ASuW is just as limited as ours as become. That's just how I see it.

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    3. That's not an unreasonable scenario but use against third world, low end opponents doesn't warrant a supercarrier which is what the Chinese are working towards building. We've had this discussion in this blog and decried the use of supercarriers and Super Hornets to plink pickup trucks. It would be the same for China.

      While they certainly could use a super carrier in African operations, I think they have a much more serious use in mind. I think they're looking at nothing less than eventually meeting the US Navy in high end combat in the middle of the Pacific in a battle for control of an entire hemisphere. In the meantime, they'll use their carriers in lesser situations (your Africa scenario, for example) and in the traditional mobile air superiority role while they build their fleet and gain operating experience.

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