China unveils first carrier

By Xu Tianran Source:Global Times Published: 2012-9-26 1:25:03

Chinese President Hu Jintao, also chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), inspects the guard of honor on the aircraft carrier
Chinese President Hu Jintao, also chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), inspects the guard of honor on the aircraft carrier "Liaoning" at a naval base in Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning Province, September 25, 2012. China's first aircraft carrier "Liaoning" was delivered and commissioned to the Navy of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Tuesday after years of refitting and sea trials. Photo: Xinhua
China’s first aircraft carrier was delivered and commissioned to the People’s Liberation Army Navy Tuesday. Photo: Xinhua
China’s first aircraft carrier was delivered and commissioned to the People’s Liberation Army Navy Tuesday. Photo: Xinhua

Witnessed by top Chinese leaders, the country's first aircraft carrier was delivered and commissioned to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy Tuesday after years of refitting and sea trials.

Overseen by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, the carrier was officially handed over by the navy's main contractor, the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, at a ceremony held at a naval base in Dalian, Liaoning Province.

Hu, also chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), endorsed a PLA flag and naming certificate to the naval unit that received the carrier.

The carrier, formerly the Soviet ship Varyag, was renamed Liaoning and underwent refitting efforts to install engines, weapons, as well as a year-long sea trial.

The PLA Navy did not disclose any type of carrier-borne aircraft deployed on the Liaoning. Most of the carrier's officers were transferred from the navy's other surface vessels. About 1,000 sailors are to serve on the Liaoning, the online portal of the People's Daily reported.

The ceremony made China the tenth country in the world and the last among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to have an aircraft carrier in active service.

Wen said in reading a congratulatory letter sent from top central authorities that China's first aircraft carrier in active service will "be of great and far-reaching significance in inspiring patriotism, national spirit and driving national defense technologies."

"It will also be of great significance in enhancing national defense power and the country's comprehensive strength," Wen said.

"The delivery and commission of the first carrier is a milestone in the PLA's history and embodies a major achievement of China's weaponry and equipment development, as well as its national defense modernization," he said.

"In modern warfare, small and medium-sized warships are increasingly insufficient in organizing active defense for China with an increased strategic depth," said Cao Weidong, a researcher with the PLA Navy's military academic research institute.

Fang Bing, an associate professor with the PLA National Defense University, explained that "an aircraft carrier will give the Navy defense capacity far beyond a land-based aviation force's combat radius."

After the commission ceremony, Hu boarded the Liaoning and inspected the Navy's honor guard.

According to the CMC, after being commissioned to the Navy, the Liaoning will continue to serve for scientific research purposes, as well as military training.

Senior captain Zhang Zheng was assigned as the commanding officer of the vessel, and the political commissar is senior captain Mei Wen. Both have served in different combat ships in the navy, the China News Service reported.

According to Chinese naval designation regulations, main combat ships can only be named after provinces, cities and counties. The carrier aircraft was named "Liaoning" in order to honor the province where it was retrofitted, according to media reports.

The two-digit hull number, 16, may suggest that the major role of the carrier is to train combat personnel, as training vessels in China use two-digit hull numbers, said Du Wenlong, a researcher at China's PLA Academy of Military Sciences.

A capable aircraft carrier will provide the navy fleet effective air defense, air-strike and early warning capabilities, enabling the Chinese fleet to engage in combat in the high seas and be less dependent on the protection provided by land-based aviation forces.

"The introduction of the Liaoning carrier will support the PLA Navy to explore the field of high sea combat, though there is still a long way to go to forming a reliable combat capability, given the time and experience needed to master the ship," Bai Wei, writer for the UK-based Air Forces Monthly, told the Global Times.

The aircraft carrier can be used in sea combat if necessary, said Lan Yun, deputy chief editor of the Beijing-based military magazine Modern Ships.

For an aircraft carrier to reach initial operation capability, it needs at least 20 fighter pilots who are able to operate on carriers, Lan told the Global Times.

"China initiated a carrier-based pilot training program some years ago, and by the end of this year we might see one or two pilots landing and taking off from the Liaoning carrier. But for the complement of a whole carrier air regiment, we might have to wait till 2014," he estimated.

Concerning the carrier-based fighters, which are crucial to the combat capability of a carrier, Qiao Liang, Chinese Air Force Major General and a professor at the Air Force Command College, told that China has developed its own carrier-based fighter, which performs well.

The Global Times previously reported in early 2011 that China's first carrier-based fighter, dubbed the J-15, has been undergoing flight tests. It is based on the Russian Su-33 carrier-based fighter in terms of structural configuration but has superior sensors avionics and weapon systems.

China will build more carriers and more advanced carrier-based fighters to meet the navy's requirements, according to Lan.

During US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's visit to China last week, photos of China's second fourth-generation fighter developed by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation began circulating on the Internet. In comparison with the Chengdu J-20, the Shenyang fighter is a medium-size stealth fighter powered by two smaller engines.

"Judging from its structural configurations, the new fighter would be more suitable to operate on carriers and replace the J-15 in the future if the program goes well," Bai said.

China announced its aircraft carrier program in July 2011, when the carrier was berthed in Dalian for refitting.

Xinhua contributed to this story


Neighboring countries' carriers


India's only aircraft carrier, the INS Viraat, is a warship that was purchased from the UK in 1986.


Receiving most of its military heritage from the former Soviet Union, Russia now operates the Admiral Kuznetsov, with a displacement of more than 67,000 metric tons.


Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force currently has two 18,000-metric ton Hyuga-class helicopter carriers, although the warships are classified by Japan as "helicopter destroyers."

South Korea

South Korea operates the ROKS Dokdo,  an aircraft carrier.


The Royal Thai Navy's only aircraft carrier, the HTMS Chakri Naruebet is a STOVL carrier that was constructed by a Spanish shipbuilding company.



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