The biggest defense news from the past week concerned the beginning of sea trials for China's first aircraft carrier, Varyag. A former Soviet/Ukrainian hulk and the sister ship of the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, Varyag finally set sail after a long process of refurbishment. The ship, which may now go by the name Shi Lang, will likely only serve as a training carrier, but her embarkation on trials has generated great consternation among observers of the Asian naval scene. Officials from both the United States and Japan have asked China to explain its need for an aircraft carrier, as if they had some sort of oversight authority over Chinese procurement decisions. For its part, China has reacted angrily to Japanese criticism of Chinese military policy.
For all the attention accorded to Shi Lang, aircraft carrier construction now proceeds apace in Asia. India will soon take delivery of another refurbished former Soviet carrier, the Admiral Gorshkov. Both China and India have also begun building their own indigenous carrier designs. Japan recently completed its second Hyuga-class "helicopter-carrying destroyer," and will reportedly soon begin construction of a larger class of aviation warships. These ships may eventually be equipped with F-35B Lightning II fighters, which would give the Japanese ships strike and air superiority capability.
Although China, Japan and India have not yet quite begun to run an arms race, they certainly pay considerable attention to each other's naval building schemes. If the competition does heat up, the three powers might consider borrowing an arms control idea from the early 20th century.