Aircraft carriers' myriad uses go beyond maritime military strength

By Li Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2012-8-22 22:20:03

Illustration: Sun Ying
Illustration: Sun Ying


Are aircraft carriers a necessity, especially for great powers? What kind of aircraft carriers do national navies need? There are many controversies over these questions in some countries, including China.

Some hold that researching and producing aircraft carriers costs too much, believing it's only a waste of money and manpower.

Undoubtedly, producing aircraft carriers is very costly compared with researching and developing other weapons. It's not only expensive to build aircraft carriers; a large amount of money is also needed to equip the fleet with shipboard aircrafts and other convoy ships. Moreover, the maintenance fee during the service period of the aircraft carrier fleet is substantial.

Therefore, aircraft carriers are unaffordable to some small- and medium-sized countries.

For example, the cost on researching and building a US Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carrier has soared to $15 billion. It takes as much as another $10 billion to equip the ship with shipboard aircrafts and other convoy ships.

The cost during the service period of the fleet amounts to roughly $100 billion. It is the high cost that prevents some countries developing aircraft carriers.

Currently, there are only nine countries around the world that have aircraft carriers, and the total number of aircraft carriers globally is only 20, of which 11 are in the US navy.

However, the advantages and benefits that a carrier fleet can bring are considerable.

Aircraft carriers are incomparable and cannot be replaced by other weapons. If a big power wants to become a strong power, it has to develop aircraft carriers. Those who hope to use other weapons to substitute for aircraft carriers are doomed to failure. They eventually have to return to developing large- and medium-sized aircraft carriers. The experiences of countries such as Russia, the UK and India in developing aircraft carriers are convincing examples.       

Building aircraft carriers can enhance nations' defense in depth in the ocean. The foreign invasions of our country's waters in the century prior to the establishment of the PRC demonstrated the weak maritime power of China.

In the future, after China's aircraft carrier is put into use, our maritime strength will be greatly and comprehensively improved.

Traditional large- and medium-sized warships such as cruisers and destroyers can perform outstandingly in anti-ship, air defense and antisubmarine operations. But they don't have the ability of air space control.

If China has its own aircraft carrier fleet, it could effectively deal with any sea and air combat. The excellent performance of the aircraft carrier fleet will become prominent with the gradual expanding of national maritime interests.

In general, getting an aircraft carrier into service can upgrade China's thinking on maritime warfare and bring reform to the navy construction model.

Nowadays, as more technologies have been applied in military field, aircraft carrier fleet not only plays a role in the sphere of war, but increasingly serves non-military uses. They can help with anti-terrorism, anti-piracy, safeguarding the security of maritime transportation lines and protecting oversea citizens.

In the foreseeable future, more countries in the world will build their own aircraft carriers, and carrier fleets will play a more important role and take more important tasks.

The author is a senior researcher at the Chinese Naval Research Institute.

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