China's first aircraft carrier, the ex-Russian Varyag, now reportedly named Shi Lang (施琅)

China's first aircraft carrier, the ex-Russian Varyag, now reportedly named Shi Lang (施琅)

While it’s been known for some time now that China’s been prepping their aircraft carrier, the formerly Russian Varyag (Shi Lang, 施琅), for active service, Thursday marked the first time that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aknowledged that the ship would likely be operational by year’s end.

The Chosun Ilbo has tabbed August 1st as the potential operational debut for the 67,00 ton (full load), ex-Varyag:

Xu Hongmeng, the PLA’s deputy Navy Commander, told reporters at the National People’s Congress in Beijing on Thursday that, “The trials have gone very smoothly, and we plan to put it into commission this year.” This is the first time that the PLA has officially mentioned the timing for the inaugural test.

“Trial runs for the Shenyang J-15, a carrier-based fighter aircraft that will operate from the Varyag are also in the pipeline,” Xu added. Take-off and landing tests for the aircraft are expected to be carried out this month, along with further test runs of the Varyag.

Once it goes into commission, the vessel will be based in Hainan Island in southern China to cover the East China Sea and South China Sea, which are the sites of territorial disputes with Japan and other Southeast Asian countries. Tension in these seas is expected to heighten when the Varyag starts its official duties there.

The aircraft [sic?] will patrol the waters off Korea’s Ieo Island, which China claims is an extension of the continental shelf that falls under its jurisdiction. (Source: Chosun Ilbo)

As a symbol, the ex-Varyag is an important new asset in the PLAN’s rapidly modernizing navy and inspiration for the people of China. As an actual weapon of war, the region’s reliance on anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) weapons systems to combat American-esque powers surely makes the ex-Varyag a giant sitting duck.

Watching China take the path towards large naval projects and a more “force vs force” approach over A2/AD, the nation’s hope of commanding a massive “Western-style” navy could potentially become a weakness that would play into Chinese enemies’ hands. Regardless, their regional neighbors aren’t likely to enjoy seeing a Chinese aircraft carrier patrolling contested exclusive economic zones and islands.

It will be fun watching where China takes their new toy for a spin.

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Craig was born & raised in the United States, having recently returned there after over five years in Asia. He is currently pursuing further education in the realms of East Asian Studies and Politics. Craig is an avid fan of the political, economic, and military machinations occurring throughout the Asian continent and how those turning gears affect the rest of the world. He's currently covering both North and South Korea for Asia Security Watch, enjoying shedding light on to this far-too-often ignored slice of Asia.
Craig Scanlan has 82 post(s) on Asia Security Watch