Shi Lang Sets Sail Then Returns To Dalian Three Days Later
On the morning of August 10 the PLAN aircraft carrier Shi Lang was conspicuously absent from its dock. Since it arrived several years ago the ex-Varyag was almost a permanent fixture in the harbor where it underwent extensive refurbishing that included new weapon systems. Without much fanfare it finally undertook its first sea trial in a location that had been closed to all maritime traffic. Accompanying the Shi Lang was a civilian ferry ‘Life Style 88’ that served as a crew support ship.
While the rest of the world circulated the news, the Shi Lang was unseen and unpublicized and quietly returned to Dalian after three days.
In the weeks building up to its maiden sea trial the Shi Lang had its engine installed, belched acrid black smoke from its chimney, and tested its lights.
Judging by the fact that it went on a mere sea trial, it might take a few more months—perhaps the rest of 2011—before the vaunted aircraft carrier carries out its first official mission.
As far as Shi Lang’s growing capabilities go, there are two major points of consensus emerging from the defense community about its future role: First, the Shi Lang will deploy to the South China Sea for geopolitical reasons. Second, it’s almost universally dismissed by most US observers.
Update: On September 25, 2012, an official ceremony attended by Chinese President Hu Jintao marked the launch of the carrier Liaoning, after China’s northeastern coastal province.
According to state-owned news outlet Xinhua, Liaoning is designated as hull number 16 or CV-16. With its new engine and flight deck, the Liaoning deploys with a crew of 1,000 whose needs are amply provided for. Aside from living quarters, other amenities include “a restaurant, supermarket, a post office, laundry, gym, bars, and a garbage disposal center.” There are also separate rooms for female crew members.
By November 27 that same year, a J-15 had successfully landed on Liaoning’s deck.
From 2013 to 2014, Liaoning was deployed for sea trials at least a handful of times. These included further landing tests for the prototype J-15 fighters, which are Chinese-made carrier-based variants of the Russian Su-27. It’s now apparent that Liaoning will never serve as the flag ship of a full-fledged PLAN battle group. Due to several vulnerabilities, including its age and problematic steam boiler engines, Liaoning is unfit for combat missions.
Liaoning’s complement of 30 J-15 fighters and at least two ASW helicopters are questionable too. The J-15 fighter has yet to enter full production and PLAN ASW capabilities aren’t very sophisticated. US Navy carriers, for example, deploy with at least 100 aircraft and a strike group complement that includes submarine escorts.
In late 2013 Liaoning and four escort warships sailed to the South China Sea. The reason was for additional tests in a different climate.
To further improve its carrier training efforts, the PLAN maintains a facility in Wuhan, Hubei Province, where real-life mock ups of its aircraft carrier allow for serious study of its operation.
At present, there are reports that two or perhaps three aircraft carriers are under construction in Shanghai.
Considering the frenzy of coverage surrounding China’s first aircraft carrier, expect more news on Liaoning in the coming weeks.