NEWCON Aircraft Carrier - How Soon?
The plan for China's first light and conventional powered aircraft carrier was estimated to cost around 4.8 billion yuan, with authorities reportedly having already allocated one billion yuan for the first phase of the project. The aircraft carrier was expected to be launched in 2003 and to officially go into service in around 2005. From then on, it was estimated that China would be able to build a new aircraft carrier at an interval of every three years. If started in 1999, this carrier was expected to be completed by 2006. As of mid-2004 there were no credible reports of the start of construction of such a ship.
In January 2004 it was reported that China would build several helicopter carriers, having decided to delay plans to build aircraft carriers. China was said to ask a European country to build the helicopter carriers and a contract was said to be expected to be signed in the near future. An un-named European country was said to have provided China with the design and specifications of the carrier it would build for the Chinese Navy. The helicopter carriers would act as a stopgap for aircraft carriers that the Chinese Navy wanted to build, despite lacking the capability to do so.
In June 2005 it was reported that China had completed the final design for an aircraft carrier, and would secretly start construction in early August 2005 at Jiang-nan Shipyard, Zhang-xing Island near Shanghai. The 29 June 2005 issue of Hong Kong Economic Daily (Jing-ji-ri-bao,) reported that the project would cost 3 billion yuan (390 million dollars), about 3% of China's military budget. The ship was described as having a top speed of 30 knots, and a maximal displacement of 78,000 ton. It was said to be equipped with Russian engines and radars. It would carry 54 fighter planes and 13 anti-submarine helicopters, including the latest Russian fighters (Su-33). It was expected to enter service by the year 2008. Zhang Guang-qin, Vice Minister of the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, denied the rumor that a carrier was under construction.
While these reports persist, they appear to be based on rumor and speculation, which despite repeated efforts, have gone unverified. For instance, the multiple aircraft carriers that China was reported to be building, were all said to be under construction at the same time at a shipyard in Shanghai, which was also enclosed, to prevent observation. Though efforts to identify a building or structure of this size have not yielded any results.
The formation of an experimental fleet centered on such a carrier would take another three to four years. Based on the experience of other countries, it seemed that that China would start building 10,000 ton cruisers to be convoy ships. It was also possible that China would purchase such cruisers directly from overseas, most likely the Ukraine, a missile cruiser from Ukraine, which was almost completed, and then build China's own similar cruisers modeled on the Ukraine.
According to the US Department of Defense's Annual Report to Congress on The Military Power of the People's Republic of China for 2010, "China has an active aircraft carrier research and development program. The PRC shipbuilding industry could start construction of an indigenous platform by the end of this year. China is interested in building multiple operational aircraft carriers with support ships in the next decade.
"China has an aircraft carrier research and design program, which includes continued renovations to the former Soviet Kuznetsov-class Hull-2, the ex-VARYAG. Beginning in early 2006 with the release of China's 11th Five Year Plan (2006-2010), PRC-owned media reported high-level government and military official statements on China's intent to build aircraft carriers. In April 2009 PRC Navy Commander Admiral Wu Shengli stated that "China will develop its fleet of aircraft carriers in a harmonious manner. We will prudently decide the policy [we will follow with regard to building aircraft carriers]. I am willing to listen to the views of experts from the navies of other countries and to seek opinions from our country."
"While meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada in March 2009, PRC Minister of Defense General Liang Guanglie stressed that China is the only big nation that does not have aircraft carriers and stated that "China cannot be without aircraft carriers forever." China continues to show interest in procuring Su-33 carrier-borne fighters from Russia.
"Since 2006 China and Russia had been in negotiations for the sale of 50 Su-33 Flanker-D fighters at a cost of up to $2.5 billion. These negotiations reportedly stalled after Russia refused a request from China for an initial delivery of two trial aircraft. Russian defense ministry sources confirmed that the refusal was due to findings that China had produced its own copycat version of the Su-27SK fighter jet.
"The PLA Navy has reportedly decided to initiate a program to train 50 navy pilots to operate fixed-wing aircraft from an aircraft carrier. In May 2009, Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim announced that the Brazilian Navy would provide training to PLA Navy officers in aircraft carrier operations.
"Analysts in and out of government project that China will not have an operational, domestically produced carrier and associated ships before 2015. However, changes in China's shipbuilding capability and degree of foreign assistance to the program could alter those projections. In March 2009, PLA Navy Admiral Wu Huayang stated that "China is capable of building aircraft carriers. We have such strength. Building aircraft carriers requires economic and technological strength. Given the level of development in our country, I think we have such strength." The PLA Navy is considering building multiple carriers by 2020."
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