The mystery of China’s carrier-based aircraft

Don’t you think it ridiculous to commission an aircraft carrier without aircraft?

And the commissioning ceremony was so grand that it was attended by both General Secretary Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

If the carrier remains without aircraft for a long time, will it not become a laughingstock instead of something they can boast of?

Trefor Moss, an independent journalist based in Hong Kong and former Asia-Pacific editor for Jane’s Defence Weekly, said, “the Liaoning’s primary objective” is “not to make other countries feel scared; but to make Chinese people feel proud”.

Let’s remember that China began to refit the carrier about 8 years ago when there was no tension in the East and South China Seas, so that there is no need to make Chinese people feel proud for the carrier. Certainly, China made its long-term plan for the development of its aircraft fleet long ago. It has nothing to do with making Chinese people proud.

What was China’s “secret” plan then? It seemed a secret plan, as China said that the hull was intended for a casino when it was purchased. No one expected that China had a long-term plan to refit it and make it operational.

However, it is obvious to those who understand Chinese history and Chinese people’s mindset that a nation who was bullied for more than a century by foreign powers wants to be strong enough to prevent any future bullying.

In my post “Obama’s Generous New Year Gift to China” on January 28 (, I said, “China knows well that its weapons are inferior now; therefore, its leaders, political scientists, well-known journalists and academics have the consensus that China needs two decades of peace. They believe that by 2030, its economy will be much bigger and its weapons will be superior to put an end to its century-long history of being bullied by other countries.”

China’s slow refitting of the carrier proved its intention to become a military superpower to put an end to the history in 2 decades.

Ming Pao says in its report on September 27: As far back as in 1987, the Chinese navy recruited 9 navy air force pilots and trained them to be reserve captains for China’s aircraft carriers.

Obviously, China had formulated an all-round plan for the development of its carrier fleet before it began to refit the carrier 8 years ago.

In the seven years when the carrier was being refitted, China was busy developing all the equipment required by the carrier so that it has now been installed with all the necessary equipment including the engines, taking-off and landing gears, active phased array radar similar to that used on US Aegis Destroyer, SS-N-19 anti-ship missiles and SA-N-9 anti-aircraft missiles.

China did not do so in a hurry. However, in July 2010, China reacted angrily at statements concerning the South China Sea disputes by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during an Asean security gathering. It began to quicken the development of its navy. It conducted the first test of its aircraft carrier in a hurry in August last year when the boat had not yet been able to sail on its own.

Since the US announcement of its return to Asia encouraged some South Asian countries to confront China in maritime territorial disputes, China began its arms race with the US in earnest.

It launched its third 071 landing platform dock (LPD) in September 2011 and a fourth during the Chinese Lunar New Year Festival in early 2012. The Festival is the most important holiday for Chinese people and normally, nobody works on the holiday. (071 LPD is a 20,000-ton amphibious transport dock similar to the US-built San Antonio-class LPD).

In addition, China put its own satellite GPS system into trial operation and declared its plan to launch 6 more satellites in 2012 to improve the system. Guided by this system, China’s missiles and bombs will be much more accurate.

As for the aircraft for the carrier, in spite of the haste in commissioning it, China has already developed for it an airborne early warning & control aircraft based on its Y-7 transport aircraft. It seems that J-15 fighter, the aircraft specially developed for the carrier, is not ready for the carrier due to the haste.

However, will it take years for the fighter to be ready?

CCTV (China’s Central TV) footage shows traces of aircraft landing on the deck of China’s carrier the Liaoning, and the wings and tail of an aircraft suspected to be a J-15 in the hanger of the carrier.

I believe that test of J-15 on land has completed. As revealed by Xu Yong, a teacher at Air Force Command College, China is now training pilots to take off and land on the carrier.

Certainly, training dozens of pilots for carrier-based aircrafts is not an easy job, but I believe it will not take longer than one year.

China’s enemy will suffer if it thinks that the Chinese carrier is now a tiger without teeth.

The Korean War and China’s wars with India and Vietnam have proved that China is used to conducting surprise attacks.

If you are not on your guard, there may be the occasion that when you think that China’s aircraft carrier is not combat ready, the carrier filled with well-tested J-15 fighters and skilful pilots may conduct a surprise attack to destroy all your air force facilities?

“The art of war is an art of deception. Hence, one shall make his enemy believe that he is unable to fight when he is able to and that he has no desire to fight when he is going to.” “Sun Tzu” begins its teachings that way!

Can such a second-rate aircraft carrier make Chinese people proud? I don’t think Chinese people are so cheap.

What I have learnt from Chinese military experts, TV talking shows and common people’s talks is that China needs 6 to 8 advanced aircraft carriers, mostly nuclear ones.

China needs to pay much less for those carriers as China is subsidised by its state-owned enterprises in its weapon development while US weapon manufacturers charge excessively high prices.

For example, a 071 LPD costs China only US$300 million, while an American San Antonio-class LPD of similar size and functions costs more than US$1.2 billion.

How long will it take to build so many carriers?

Let us take 071 LPD for example again. China launched its first 071 LPD in December 2006 and its second 071 LPD 4 years later in November 2010, but it launched the third 10 months later and the fourth five months after the third.

When the design is finalised and technology, mature, China may turn out quite a few advanced carriers in a relatively short period of time.

Categories: Defence & Aerospace

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6 replies

  1. Reblogged this on OyiaBrown.


  2. This is interesting. I live in Tianjin and am married to a Chinese girl. I remember reading about the aircraft carrier in Western media outlets but was surprised not to see coverage about it on CCTV (at that time). I even asked my wife’s father about it and he had no idea that China had even obtained a carrier (he watches the news nightly and reads the paper ever morning during his commute). In any case, it’s interesting to speculate about the timetable and possible future intentions for their developing navy. Thanks for the article, great read!


  3. Makes a nice landing pad for drones… just sayin’.



  1. The mystery of China’s homegrown aircraft carriers « China Daily Mail
  2. China: Intensive arms race causes stress on elite engineers « China Daily Mail
  3. Five Chinese weapons of war America should fear | China Daily Mail

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