China building indigenous aircraft carrier

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China has already started work on its first completely indigenous aircraft carrier, at the same time as it prepares to put the refurbished Soviet-era Varyag to sea. China is steadily modernising its armed forces and is seeking to build up a carrier force over the coming decades.

Japan’s The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported that an officer in the Chinese military said China is constructing a fully indigenous carrier, and that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will soon have two operational carriers: the Varyag and the new vessel.

The newspaper quoted military sources close to developments in the Chinese Navy as saying that the domestically made carrier is being built in a shipyard on Changxing Island in Shanghai.

Security around the shipyard on Changxing Island has been significantly beefed up since the beginning of the year, which military sources attributed to the start of construction of the carrier.

The sources said the new carrier would most likely be a medium sized vessel, similar to the Varyag, and carry Jian-15 jet fighters, which China has developed from the Sukhoi Su-33. The fighters will likely take off from a ski jump-style flight deck as is done on the Varyag.

Although the new aircraft carrier is said to be modelled after the Varyag, military sources said China has acquired the technology to construct an aircraft carrier on its own. China has long studied foreign aircraft carriers and bought the blueprints for the Varyag along with the rest of the ship in 1998. Since 1985 China has acquired four retired aircraft carriers for study, including the Australian HMAS Melbourne and the ex-Soviet Minsk and Kiev.

Meanwhile, the US Defence Department’s 2010 report, “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” said China would be able to operate two or more aircraft carriers in the coming decade.

The experts quoted by The Yomiuri Shimbun said that China is also constructing destroyers with air-defence missiles to defend the carriers.

At the moment the Varyag is being readied for its maiden voyage, which will take place next month, according to the Hong Kong Commercial Daily. The launch was delayed for a month due to mechanical problems.

The Varyag, which a Chinese firm bought from the Ukraine in 1998 for US$20 million, is currently being refurbished by the Chinese navy in the port city of Dalian in northeast China and will be officially launched around October next year. It will most likely be followed by two completely indigenously built aircraft carriers. The cost of building a medium-sized conventionally powered, 60,000-tonne carrier similar to the Russian Kuznetsov class could exceed US$2 billion.

The US Office of Naval Intelligence has estimated the vessel would be launched as a training platform by 2012 and be fully operational after 2015.

China would be the third Asian country to have a carrier after India and Thailand, something that has caused unease in the region.

The carrier will likely raise concerns in neighbouring countries, including Japan, whose ties with China have been strained over the Senkaku Islands; and Vietnam and the Philippines, which have territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.

At the beginning of last month, China’s defence minister sought to reassure Asia Pacific neighbours that his country’s growing economic and military power was not a threat.

General Liang Guanglie told the annual Shangri-La security conference in Singapore that the modernization of the People’s Liberation Army was in line with the country’s economic growth and to meet its security requirements.
“We do not intend to threaten any country with the modernization of our military force. I know many people tend to believe that with the wealth of China’s economy, China will be a military threat,” he said, speaking dressed in full military uniform.
“I would like to say that it is not our option. We didn’t seek to, we are not seeking to and we will not seek hegemony and we will not threaten any country.”

But Liang said the situation in the South China Sea where a territorial dispute with Vietnam and the Philippines heated up last month was now stable.
“China is committed to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he said adding it stood by a 2002 code of conduct signed with members of the Association of South East Asian Nations to resolve peacefully the rival claims over the resource-rich region.

China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all claim territories in the sea, which covers an important shipping route and is thought to hold untapped oil and gas reserves.

China’s claim is by far the largest, forming a vast U-shape over most of the sea’s 648,000 square miles (1.7 million square km), including the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.

Tension also increased with Vietnam last month after Hanoi said a Vietnamese oil and gas exploration ship had its surveying cables cut by Chinese boats.

The modernization of China’s navy will also shake up stability in the Asia-Pacific region, which has been primarily maintained by the United States’ overwhelming military power.

China is also working on a ballistic missile that could pose a serious threat to US aircraft carriers, which Washington could deploy to seas around Taiwan in the event of a crisis with the self-ruled island, which China claims as its own territory.

China’s carrier ambitions and maritime force projection will have implications for the Gulf of Aden region, as the PLAN currently has a task force of ships on station there to escort merchant ships through the pirate-infested waters.

The ninth naval escort group left China for the Gulf of Aden earlier this month. The task force comprises the Type 052B destroyer Wuhan, and the Type 054A frigate Yulin, as well as the supply ship Qinghaihu. The ninth task force group carries a total of 878 seamen and officers on board, including dozens of Marines.

China sent its inaugural convoy escort group to the Gulf of Aden in December 2008 in what that nation’s first operational deployment outside its own waters since the Fifteenth Century. To date, Chinese navy fleets have escorted 3 968 ships from countries all over the world and rescued 40 ships attacked by pirates.