Ludwig von Gress
I believe that most readers noted the impressive achievement of the Chinese military, more precisely of the People Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) two months ago. On the 10th August 2011 the first Chinese aircraft carrier, under its own power hit the Yellow Sea waters off Dalian, a port on the north-east coast, some 140 nautical miles west of Pyongyang.
The ship as yet has no name which is a shame for such an old vessel. Launched in Crimea in 1988 in the dying days of USSR, abandoned by both old communist and new ex-communist masters, it was slowly succumbing to the Black Sea weather. Ten years later, the cash-strapped Ukrainian government sold it for a miserable US$20 million, sin engines and armaments for peaceful and lucrative use as a casino. The purchaser was a Chinese private/military corporation, which allegedly does not exist anymore. Other ex-Soviet warships ended up in the Chinese amusement parks, so it would not be unprecedented and there is no need to laugh. Turks have obligation under an international treaty to control passage of naval vessels through the Dardanelles and they take it seriously. Negotiations took time and finally in 2001 permission to pass was given. What possible harm could a rusty bucket, obsolete even when its keel was laid, do? Except to gamblers or visitors?
When in Soviet hands, she was named Varyag*. Her sister-ship Kuznetsov is the only Russian aircraft carrier in service. It is 297 metres long, displacing 65,000 tons, has admitted speed 32 knots and beside 2,500 crew can carry 26 fighter/attack aircraft and 22 helicopters. This particular vessel was towed from Black Sea, via Mediterranean, Suez, Indian Ocean and the Straits of Malacca to the Chinese shores. Somehow she avoided the sino-Disneyland-like fate, ended up in a naval port under strict security and instead of in Bambi colours, was painted proper macho battleship grey, in Chinese navy specified tint. The real work started later, in 2005. Of course, any navy which is the Navy in vicinity has got an aircraft-carrier: India, Thailand, Russia, Japan … no, not Australia. At the moment the first communist Chinese aircraft-carrier has no aircraft, which is usual for early sea trials. Pilots are training for Russian Su-33, in navalised version. It should all come together at the end of 2012 and increasingly middling Middle Kingdom would be able to defend its increasingly dependent friends in the ever expanding area. It would not be needed for liberation of adjacent Formosa.
On the very same day in August feisty free Chinese in Taiwan invited media to the Taipei Aerospace and Technology Show where their anti-ship missile Hsiung Feng III was exhibited in front of a panel illustrating an aircraft carrier, eerily resembling Varyag, suffering heavy damage from missiles. The proud exhibitors referred to Hsiung Feng III as the “aircraft-carrier-killer”. The Chinese communist journalists referred to it as the “provocation”.
Naturally, the Chinese navy is not content with an almost a quarter century old ship. PLAN is planning a new aircraft carrier, a catamaran to boot. It is to displace 320,000 tons and it is too good to be true. It looks good on computer generated pictures though, if you like that sort of things. One has to bear in mind that recently the Chinese built all sorts of science fiction structures and most of them are still standing. The Spirit of Mao willing, shipyard workers’ strikes notwithstanding, the ship ought to protect the achievements of the working families in China and everywhere by 2015 at the latest.
In the meantime remember – casino owners do not loose. Chinese roulette, anyone?
*/ Varyags – Old (9 to 11 AD.) Norse heroes, “engaging in trade, piracy and mercenary activities”. Perhaps the PLAN could keep the name.