China’s aircraft carriers: the ultimate paper tiger?

According to a report in the online magazine The National Interest on March 6, an evaluation by the CIA said that the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy aircraft carriers are not able to carry out deepwater missions, unlike what the United States is doing. China is also unable to deploy forces all over the globe, as the United States does with its naval fleet of super aircraft carriers.

U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, who is the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the House Committee on Armed Services on March 2 that China is currently in the process of making aircraft carriers that, unlike United States aircraft carriers, do not have deepwater operation abilities and are unable to carry out aerial maneuvers.

Stewart says that formations of China’s aircraft carriers will, at least for now, still essentially be placed in the waters around the borders of China, mainly to protect China’s safety in the area of the South China Sea claimed by China. Realistically, China’s only current aircraft carrier, the 55,000-ton Liaoning Aircraft Carrier, is approximately half the size of the United States Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Furthermore, the Chinese aircraft carrier can complete smooth jump take-offs and is not an aircraft catapult. This limits the aircraft’s ability to launch heavy duty aircraft. The article says that China’s second aircraft carrier is currently being manufactured at the Liaoning/Kuznetsov Brand Base in Dalian, China. Unless China creates steam catapult or electromagnetic catapult aircraft carriers, China will not be on equal footing with the American Nimitz-class or Ford-class aircraft carriers.

The article’s author believes that as a result of the development of China’s technology and the protection of its foreign interests, China’s navy will expand its actions to the rest of the world. There are signs that the Chinese people are preparing to do this, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Stewart claims, and that the Liberation Army is cooking up plans for deploying at a greater capacity worldwide. The article states that only time will tell us how China’s navy will develop. But even if China’s economic growth is slowing, Beijing won’t stop the pace of military progress, even if it slows to a certain degree.

Is it reasonable for the American media to decry Chinese aircraft carriers as weak? Military analysts say that firstly, the Chinese military has already clearly stated that the main purpose of the Liaoning aircraft carrier is for scientific research and military drills in order to accumulate experience and technology for the future progress of domestically produced Chinese aircraft carriers. Accordingly, it is obviously unfair to compare the Liaoning aircraft carriers with Nimitz-class or Ford-class aircraft carriers. Everyone knows that the United States has the most extensive experience and the most advanced technology when it comes to aircraft carriers. Globally, the United States has achieved unrivaled superiority through the development of these carriers over the last 100 years, while China has only just begun to research and develop aircraft carriers in the last 10 years. That China is falling behind America in terms of technology is normal. Secondly, China is following a stable strategy of “small but quick steps.” It aims to move from the beginnings of improving the Liaoning aircraft carrier so it can succeed in the domestic manufacture of aircraft carriers capable of smooth jump takeoff, to the normal operation of domestically manufactured straight-decked aircraft carriers, and finally to the development of domestically produced heavy duty nuclear aircraft carriers.

Aircraft carriers are the most complicated military weapon in a modern navy, and so it should develop steadily according to the laws of science. The military doesn’t need to pay attention to the United States’ belittling; and realistically, the fact that China has already absorbed the technology for the Liaoning aircraft carrier in such a short time is no small thing. I believe that not long from now, we will be able to see the outlines of heavy duty domestic aircraft carriers appear on the front lines of upholding our rights in the ocean.