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The Sea Serpent Awakens: China Readies Aircraft Carrier Shi Lang

June 20, 2011

Chinese Aircraft Carrier

Earlier this month news broke out across the web and traditional media channels of the Shi Lang, the refurbished Kuznetsov-class PLAN aircraft carrier currently docked in Dalian.

The carrier, notable for its sloped runway, was purchased for a bargain price (just $20 million) from Ukraine in the late 1990s then towed to China. In an epic transit worthy of a movie, a small tug boat crew traversed three continents before it reached Dalian t0 undergo extensive refurbishing that lasted almost a decade.

Dubbed “the world’s worst kept military secret” by UK paper the Guardian,  the then unnamed carrier was being touted as a floating casino for Macao in an attempt to allay suspicions. The ploy seems to have been of little value as PLAN officials finally made it known early this month that the carrier’s maiden voyage will take place in the summer.

Aside form an extensive paint job, there’s little concrete evidence of the hardware the newly rechristened Varyag is going to be equipped with. There’s a near-consensus among observers that the Shi Lang in its current state lacks an engine. The type of onboard defensive weapons it carries are also unknown; grainy pictures have surfaced of a reverse engineered Phalanx gun for short range air and missile defense, but little else is confirmed yet.

Not surprisingly, the capabilities of the Shi Lang have been poo-pooed by American observers in the Naval War College and other high ranking Naval officers.

In Chinese history,  Shi Lang is the Qing Dynasty general who conquered Taiwan, thereby crushing the last bastion of anti-Manchu resistance. The symbolic naming is no doubt a message to Taipei even if the Shi Lang’s future role, as articulated by Admiral Li Yin, hints at using the carrier and its accompanying (yet to be assembled) battle group as a foreign policy tool whenever regional spats erupt between China and its neighbors.

Chinese J15 fighterThe aircraft complement is a fleet of J-15 Flying Sharks, currently prototypes of  license built Su-33 variants.

The Shi Lang is already causing alarm among China’s neighbors and op-ed pundits have wasted no time forecasting darker days ahead, as this piece from the Jakarta Globe reads.

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