Global Insights: China’s Carrier Wait Will End Soon

Global Insights: China’s Carrier Wait Will End Soon

Although China did not launch its first aircraft carrier in time for yesterday's People's Liberation Army Day, expectations are that a Chinese flat-top will soon appear on the high seas. Chinese media have been hinting for years that the PLA Navy would not go forever without such an important naval asset, and the past few days have seen extensive coverage of the Varyag, which when it is launched will be the country's first carrier ship.

In 1998, the People's Republic of China (PRC) purchased the Varyag, an uncompleted Soviet-era sloped-deck carrier, for $20 million. The Chinese buyer claimed it would be used as a floating casino, and Ukraine removed the vessel's engines and armaments before delivering the ship in 2002. After a few years, it became evident that the Chinese were refitting the Varyag into a warship, providing the ship with new boilers, electronic systems, radar and engines as well as refurbishing its hull and deck.

In recent years, Chinese state-controlled media has repeatedly run commentaries endorsing China's acquisition of a carrier as a natural progression in the country's military development. But only recently has the launch of the Varyag been described as imminent. On July 30, 2011, Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng confirmed that, "Currently we are refurbishing an old aircraft carrier for research and training purposes." According to the Chinese media, the carrier might operate the J-15 fighter, the JT-9 naval trainer and the Z-8 helicopter. PRC representatives have stated that the Varyag will serve as both a training vessel, especially for PLA Navy pilots inexperienced in carrier operations, and a model for learning how to make their own future carriers.

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