PLAN aircraft carrier Liaoning. Xinhua photo.

PLAN aircraft carrier Liaoning. Xinhua photo.


Not exactly unexpected news, but a senior officer with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy has said that China will have more than one aircraft carrier, and its next aircraft carrier(s) will be larger and carry more aircraft, including more fighters. China has recently completed the refurbishment of the Liaoning, a Kuznetsov-class carrier that was purchased unfinished from Ukraine soon after the turn of the century.

Rear Admiral Song Xue, deputy chief of staff of the PLA Navy, has also revealed that China plans for its future carriers to operate at least two aviation regiments on one carrier, including fighters, reconnaissance aircraft, anti-submarine aircraft, electronic countermeasure (ECM) planes and helicopters. As we have revealed on this blog before, there have already been sightings of what could possibly be China’s future carrier-borne Airborne Early aircraft, based on the Y-7 transport (albeit heavily modified – possibly to fit inside a carrier) and reportedly designated the JZY-01.

So far, only the Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark carrier-borne fighter and the Changhe Z-8 helicopter have been pictured operating on the Liaoning. However, as she’s widely expected to serve mostly as a training carrier, training up a core of naval and air crew, developing tactics and establishing a doctrine in carrier operations, we will probably see more training aircraft such as the Guizhou JT-9 carrier-borne trainer flying from the Liaoning.

As Flightglobal’s Greg Waldron notes, if the PLA Navy were to operate a variety of (larger) aircraft types, it would also mean that it will almost certainly have to look beyond the current Short Take Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) mode of carrier operations and invest in a Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) capability. Liaoning is equipped for STOBAR operations with a ski jump aiding aircraft take offs at the front of her flight deck, but this imposes fuel and payload restrictions on the J-15, limiting the type’s combat effectiveness. More importantly, it prohibits larger aircraft (or aircraft with poorer thrust-weight ratios) from operating from the Liaoning. If China goes down the CATOBAR path, the challenge will then be for China to design and manufacture a working catapult system, as the only other countries operating the CATOBAR system at the moment are the United States, France and Brazil, and the willingness of these countries to transfer CATOBAR technology to China is questionable at best.

Oh, Rear Admiral Song has also said reports that the new carrier is currently being built at shipyards in Shanghai are not accurate. Whether that means that construction of China’s next carrier has yet to begin, or if it is already being built someplace other than Shanghai, he did not say…


Mike Yeo is a Singapore-born, Melbourne-based miiltary aviation photographer. An airpower junkie who blogs/tweest mainly about military aviation in the Asia-Pacific region. Website: Twitter: @thebaseleg

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 101 post(s) on Asia Security Watch