In the most publicized PLA Navy modernization event of 2012, after a year of extensive sea trials, China commissioned its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in September 2012. On 25 September 2012, it was reported that the aircraft carrier formerly known as the Varyag had entered operational service, primarily as a training platform with no assigned aircraft, as the Liaoning. However, official statements said that the vessel would also help China defend its interests. This name was said to be in reference to the province where the ship was refitted and refurbished after being purchased from Ukraine. The PLA Navy successfully conducted its first launch and recovery of the carrier-capable J-15 fighter on November 26, 2012.
China's first aircraft carrier held its first sea trial on Wednesday, 10 August 2011. Officials said the trial was on schedule and that afterwards the ship will dock for further work. The August 2009 US Office of Naval Intelligence report "The People's Liberation Army Navy: A Modern Navy With Chinese Characteristics" had stated that "This carrier is expected to become operational in the 2010 to 2012 timeframe, and will likely be used to develop basic proficiencies in carrier operations."
The ex-Varyag was acquired by China from Ukraine without engines, and must be outfitted with new engines before going out to sea. China lacks indigenous steam turbine or gas turbine engine capabilities, and absent purchase of such engines from foreign sources, the ex-Varyag would have to be equiped with marine diesel engines. Such engines are larger than turbine engines, so the ex-Varyag outfitted with marine diesel engines would be underpowered relative to the original design, and consequently slower than the original design. With a best speed in the neighborhood perhaps 20 knots [the standard speed for American amphibious ships], ex-Varyag would be considerably slower than the 30-knot standard for American aircraft carriers and escort ships. As such, ex-Varyag would seem far more suited as an aviation training ship than as a operational tactical combat unit, though it might have some combat utility under some circumstances.
Carriers can be built rather quickly, given enough money, but experienced carrier crews cannot. Continuous training is required to operate a carrier safely. Flight deck operations are a series of precise movements, and structured catapult and landing area procedures. Everything from ordinance handling to aircraft maintenance procedures differe from those for land based aircraft. During the most hazardous phase of both fixed-wing and helicopter flight operations and the launching and recovery of these aircraft, these personnel are exposed to hazards of jet intake, jet blast and propeller/rotor wash, highspeed propellers and rotors, possible arresting cable separations, and the obvious hazards associated with aircraft crashes and fires on confined flight decks at sea. Prolonged launch (takeoff) and recovery (landing) cycles may last greater than 24 consecutive hours in duration and may be accomplished in an all-weather, high paced environment, interrupted only by short periods of rest and nourishment.
Ukraine halted construction on the ex-Varyag in 1992, when it was about 70 percent complete but without many electrical systems, no engines and no weapons. Left exposed to the elements, it quickly began to deteriorate. In 1992 China was reported to have opened discussions with Ukraine to purchase of the Varyag, a 67,500-ton Kuznetsov-class attack aircraft carrier about two-thirds complete and docked at the Black Sea shipyard of Nikolayev. In mid-1992 China's Science Academy sent 15 naval specialists to Ukraine for two months to conduct a feasibility study on the matter. After hearing their report, the Central Military Commission decided to go ahead with the plan and buy a carrier, aircraft and electronic equipment by 1994. These negotiations were ultimately fruitless, after Japan and the United States put pressure on Ukraine to pull out of the deal.
In early 1998 a Macau-based company, Chin Lot Tourist and Amusement Agency bought the Varyag for $20 million dollars, with the announced intent of turning it into a floating amusement park and gambling casino in Macau. The contract with Ukraine stipulated that the buyer could not use the carrier for military purposes, and that any equipment that could be used to build other warships would be removed from the craft. In 1999 a respected Hong Kong periodical reported that British and French companies had made Beijing an offer to equip the Varyag with many of the systems needed to make it operational.
A tugboat from International Transport Contractors (ITC), towed the Varyag out into the Black Sea in June 2000. For more than than a year thereafter circled the Black Sea, because the Turkish authorities said it is too big to be towed through the narrow straits into the Mediterranean. The Turkish authorities argued that, together with its tugs, the Varyag would be more than 550m long and would have difficulty making the 15 changes of course required to navigate the straits. By September 2001 the ship had been marooned in the Black Sea for 13 months waiting to be towed to Macau. In October, Turkey allowed the decommissioned aircraft carrier to sail through its congested waterway after China pledged to minimize potential risks and offered guarantees that it would compensate Ankara for any possible damages. On 01 November 2001 ex-Varyag entered Turkish territorial waters at 0700. Here, four tugboats which played an active role in Varyag's passage through the straits threw rope to the floating vessel. On November 4, 2001 ex-Varyag was brought back under control after breaking loose of its tugboats in the Aegean in strong winds. In March 2002 the Varyag was towed to the Chinese port of Dalian.
Chong Lot was a subsidary a Hong Kong firm called Chinluck (Holding). Chong Lot was also connected to another Hong Kong company, Goldspot Investments Ltd. All three firms had connections with former People's Liberation Army officials. Directors of Chinluck were reported to have ties to the Chinese Navy, though Chinluck denied any People's Liberation Army involvement in the sale of the Varyag. Three of the five directors of Chinluck Holding, the parent company of Chong Lot, were Chinese nationals from Shandong, which happens to be the home of the Chinese Navy's North sea fleet. Chinluck (Holding) Co. Ltd. did not have any public presence, and Chong Lot carried a non-existent address in Macau.
In 2003 Sky Cruise International Company Limited sought the winding up of Chinluck (Holdings) Company Limited. The petition was filed on 16 August 2003, and was heard before the High Court of Hong Kong on 12 November 2003, at 9:30 in the morning. Sky Cruise held its registered office at 13th Floor, Bel Trade Commercial Building, 1-3 Burrows Street, Wanchai, Hong Kong. On 4 April 2003, Zhong Nan Group (Hong Kong) Investments Ltd filed suit against Chinluck (Holdings) Co Ltd to recover USD 1,928,200.
However, the the Chinluck Group remained active. On 10 March 2005, Xinhuanet quoted Cheng Zhen Shu, who was chairman of the Chinluck Group Ltd in Hong Kong, as saying "The adoption of the anti-secession law and mighty military strengthen will deter 'Taiwan independence' elements from pursuingillegal activities."
The carrier was surrounded with heavy security in Dalian, which bars civilian access. Police flank the shipyard entrance. This fueled speculation that the Varyag was being used by the Chinese military. It was not evident that China could actually turn Varyag into an active military warship, since she was badly deteriorated. Around 70 percent complete, Varyag displaced about 33,600 tons [versus the 67,000-ton design displacement]. The steam turbines that were to have powered Varyag had not been installed by the Ukrainian state-run Generating Systems of Crimea prior to sale. Electronics were either never fitted or removed before she was sold.
In May 2005 the Varyag reportedly entered the dry dock near its mooring in Dailan harbor. One picture from the side has been seen in multiple forms and an aerial shot was undoubtably fabricated. The ship was said to have emerged from the dry dock in its current paint scheme, a standard gray used by the PLAN. That the ship was only said to have entered the dry dock in May and was out by August 2005, a time span of around 3 months and a third of the time full operational US carriers usually spend in dry dock for repairs and refit called the speculation into question. That the ship continued to ride high at its morrings in Dailan harbor as of 2007, suggesting that reports of refitting and installation of equipment were at least grossly exaggerated.
Jane's reported in August 2005 that "Chinese shipyard workers have been repairing a badly damaged ex-Russian aircraft carrier and have repainted it with the country's military markings, raising the question once again of whether China is pursuing longer-term plans to field its first carrier. In the latest developments, images show that workers at the Chinese Dalian Shipyard have repainted the ex-Russian Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier Varyag with the markings and colour scheme of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy (PLAN). Additional new photographs show that other work, the specifics of which could not be determined, appears to be continuing and that the condition of the vessel is being improved."
Subsequent unconfirmed reports followed suggesting that the Varyag could be being readied for operational use, for use as a training carrier, or perhaps most probable of the possibilities, to be brought to some limited capability in time for the Olympic Games in 2008 as a propoganda tool. As of June 2008 the newest pictures of the Varyag showed her with additional new paint, but a lack of any visible activity. In late Arpil, 2009, the Varyag was moved from the pier in Dalian, to a dry dock about two miles distant, apparently in order to install engines and other heavy equipment.
Varyag's island was rebuilt in dry dock in 2009 and early 2010, with what appeared to be new PAR (Phased Array Radar) support structure. Vayrag was out of dry dock in March 2010. Shi Lang's early years at sea will probably be devoted to training.
China's first aircraft carrier, the "Liaoning," completed and accomplished its sea trials, and was officially delivered and commissioned to the Navy of the PLA by CSIC Dalian Shipyard on the morning of Sep. 25. Hu Jintao, CPC General Secretary, PRC President, Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) attended the handover ceremony and conducted an inspection of the Liaoning.
Wen Jiabao, member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the CPC Central Committee and Premier the State Council of the People’s Republic of China also attended the handover ceremony and read out the message of congratulation from the CPC Central Committee, the State Council and the Central Military Commission. Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, Politburo members of the CPC Central Committee and CMC vice chairmen; Ma Kai, member of the State Council doubling as its Secretary-General; Chang Wanquan, member of CMC and director of the PLA's General Armament Department; and Wu Shengli, member of CMC and Navy Commander, also attended the ceremony.
With the approval of CMC, China’s first aircraft carrier is named the “Liaoning” of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, with hull number 16. After the handover, the Liaoning will start up relevant scientific researches and military training. Leaders from relevant departments of the central government, four general departments of the PLA, Navy, Air Force, Shenyang Military Region, General Office of CMC and Liaoning Province, and representatives of organizations taking part in building China’s first aircraft carrier attended the ceremony.
On 25 November 2012 a Chinese Shenyang J-15 fighter jet successfully carried out the first arrested deck landing on the country’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. This achievement marked a crucial step in the development of China’s ambitious aircraft carrier program as landing tests of carrier-based aircraft are the most challenging to perform. “Capabilities of the carrier platform and the J-15 have been tested, meeting all requirements and achieving good compatibility,” the Chinese Navy said. The J-15s had made many landings on land-based mock-ups of Liaoning’s deck and performed a number of touch-and-go take-offs and landings during sea trials last month before attempting an arrested landing on the deck of the aircraft carrier, according to Chinese naval experts. Since the Liaoning entered service in September 2012, its crew has completed more than 100 training and testing programs.
China's J-15 carrier-based fighter will not be able to compete with Russia's Su-33 fighter on global markets because it is inferior to the Russian aircraft, according to Russian military analysts. China since 2001 had been developing the J-15 naval fighter, which is believed to be a clone of Russia's Su-33 Falcon-D. China bought an Su-33 prototype earlier from Ukraine, and used it to develop the new aircraft. China was unlikely to solve technical problems related to the design of the folding wings and to develop a reliable engine for the aircraft, although the first J-15 prototype reportedly made its maiden flight on August 31, 2009, powered by Chinese WS-10 turbofan engines.
By early May 2013 escort ships for China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, were reported to be assembling at Qingdao Harbor and the carrier battle group is suspected to be sailing out soon, a Hong Kong-based Chinese-language newspaper said Saturday. Wen Wei Po said that the carrier battle group might comprise the Liaoning, four type 052C or 052D destroyers, two type 052B destroyers, two to four type 054A escort ships, one or two type 093 nuclear submarines and one supply ship. The reports also said the aircraft carrier could carry 22 J-15 fighter planes, four to six Z-8 early warning planes and around 12 Ka-27 anti-submarine helicopters. Judging from the formation, the carrier group could form three lines of anti-air defenses, the first being formed by the Z-8s and J-15s and the second by the Hongqi-9 surface-to-air missiles aboard the 052C/D anti-air destroyers. The third anti-air line will be formed by the SA-N-12 mid- and close-range anti-aircraft missiles aboard the 052B destroyers and Hongqi-16 mid-and close-range anti-aircraft missiles aboard the four 054A escort ships. The formation could handle 24 attacking targets simultaneously.
Liaoning, not Shi Lang
Jane's Fighting Ships stated that Varyag may have been named Shi Lang (hull No. 83), a name reported in 2008. In the summer of 2007, it was commissioned into the PLAN. There is no corresponding official statement.
Shi Lang (1621-96)conquered Taiwan for the Kangxi emperor in 1683, previous to which it was under the sway of a Chinese chief named Koxinga. Admiral Shi Lang served as commander-in-chief of the Qing fleet of 300 warships and 20000 troops. In the 1662-64 period, the Qing government, in order to realize national reunification, had conducted peace talks 10 times over a period of 22 years. However, due to neglect of the construction and use of naval force and under the circumstance of the lack of necessary military pressure and effective military attacking capability, the first nine peace talks all ended in failures.
In 1683, Shi Lang, the navy military governor of Fujian, led more than 20,000-men to wipe out the bandits in Taiwan by employing the strategy for the use of force of "first taking Penghu and then Taiwan" and "residing invitation to surrender in annihilation". The Manchus took possession of the island and made it a district of Fukien Province, which it remained until ceded to the Japanese in 1895. Shi Lang's military and social influence carried on growing in the decade after his conquest of Taiwan. Shi Lang in his Memorial to the Emperor on Taiwan Issue analyzed the geographical situation of Taiwan, emphasized its strategic importance to the security of the southeast coast and the whole country and expressed his determination to safeguard it and keep it within the territory of China.
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