Skip to content

The New Chinese Aircraft Carrier Is Very Bad News

December 29, 2019

Via Chinese state media.

The PLAN capped a busy year a week before Christmas when President Xi Jinping attended the commissioning of the Shandong (Hull 17) aircraft carrier at a Hainan port 32 months after the ship was launched on April 26, 2017. After the publicity blitz on December 17 Shandong departed for a training exercise; it sailed near Taiwan as a veiled threat toward the island nation. The Shandong is the first aircraft carrier made in China and the Chinese navy’s second conventionally powered aircraft carrier with a ski jump after the Liaoning (Hull 16) entered service in 2012.

Construction of the Shandong began in 2013 and work is ongoing in Dalian on an even larger vessel with an electromagnetic catapult on its deck like the US navy’s Nimitz and Ford-class carriers.

With Washington, DC waging a trade war against Beijing no serious efforts have materialized to check the PLAN’s broad modernization. Since 2010 an astonishing variety of surface vessels were added to its inventory just when China began aggressive territorial claims over nearby seas. The recent additions includes the largest destroyer class among modern navies, the Type 055. Chinese shipyards are also launching massive supply ships for replenishing naval flotillas. Then in September 2019 the very first amphibious assault ship of the PLAN marines, the Type 075, was launched. All these breakthroughs shows how far-reaching the PLAN’s ambitions are–it foresees deploying abroad with overwhelming force. An achievement of this scale means China regains its status as a naval power that was lost in 15th century.

The Shandong isn’t a replica of the Liaoning, which is a refurbished Soviet carrier bought from Ukraine, although its layout is similar. Grossing up to 70,000 tons at sea, the Shandong supports several dozen fixed and rotary wing aircraft. Foremost are a reported 36 J-15 multirole fighters that fit inside the spacious hangar below its flight deck. For anti-submarine and emergency rescue missions the Shandong carries Z-8 transport helicopters converted for naval use. As the PLAN deploys its second carrier strike group it surpasses its rival India, whose own fleet has shrunk in the last 20 years, and overmatches the once stronger navy of Japan.

The rate of production for Chinese naval vessels is astonishing. It took five years to assemble the Shandong and two years of rigorous sea trials (the carrier traveled a total of nine times) before receiving its commission on December 17. There’s some evidence the next PLAN aircraft carrier is now being assembled at a state-owned shipyard and its adoption even faster. If at least two more aircraft carriers, this time in the 100,000 ton class, join the PLAN by the following decade the pressure on the US Navy will be enormous–its Pacific Fleet (combining the 3rd and 7th Fleets) faces a disadvantage if it tries to assert control over the “first island chain.”

By the 2020s the Chinese military should possess other “killer apps” the US must anticipate and overcome. The worst of them is a mysterious new strategic bomber whose characteristics bring together stealth and a possible nuclear payload. Chinese stealth aircraft co-exist with hypersonic missiles that current air defenses can neither intercept nor eliminate, posing an existential threat to US carriers. Furthermore, the combination of Chinese long-range strike aircraft and hypersonic missiles leave US bases in the Asia-Pacific vulnerable. If the rumored “Type 096” nuclear-powered missile submarines are indeed scheduled to arrive within the same period, a permanent state of crisis in China-US relations is possible as the military balance between the two is no longer skewed, making war inevitable.

Comments are closed.