PLAN Aircraft Carriers


Background
Type 001A
Type 001 Liaoning Class

BACKGROUND

China’s ambition to build a ‘blue water’ navy with aircraft carriers, large surface combatants and nuclear submarines originated from its birth in the 1950s, but the building of an aircraft carrier was not seriously considered until the early 1980s, when Admiral Liu Huaqing became the commander-in-chief of the PLA Navy, and later in the 1990s the Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (1989—97). Liu studied in Voroshilov Naval Academy in Leningrad, Soviet Union between 1954 and 1958, and became the driving force behind the transforming of the PLA Navy from a costal defence force to a regional naval power during his tenure.

Under the influence of Liu and other strong advocates within the PLA for the ocean-going offensive strategy, in the early-1980s Chinese research institutes and think tanks within the PLA began to study the feasibility of a light aircraft carrier of 15,000 to 20,000 t displacement and carrying helicopters and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft such as the Sea Harrier. However, each such as modest design was far beyond China’s industrial and financial capabilities at the time.

Instead, the PLA took a long-term approach in developing its aircraft carrier capability, beginning with building a pool of talents and gaining technical know-how. In 1987, ten outstanding candidates were chosen from hundreds of qualified naval aviation pilots to join the first and only ‘pilot warship captain class’ at the Guangzhou Warship Academy, where they received a three-year undergraduate study to become naval warship officers, following the example of the U.S. Navy to select carrier commanding officers from qualified naval aviators.

An important method of gaining insight in the construction of an aircraft carrier was by studying the retired carrier examples purchased from abroad. In 1985, China purchased the retired 15,000 t carrier HMAS Melbourne from Australia for breaking. However, over the next five years the ship was stationed at Port Huangpu in Guangzhou so that it could be carefully examined by Chinese naval engineers and architects. Unconfirmed report suggested that the PLA Navy had built a land-based replica of Melbourne’s flight deck in inland China to training PLA naval aviators in carrier flight operations.

The PLA Navy initiated the feasibility study of an indigenous aircraft carrier programme in the early 1990s. The carrier concept was modelled after the 60,000 t U.S. Navy Kitty Hawk class, with a conventional steam turbine propulsion and catapult-assisted take-off but arrested-recovery (CATOBAR) configuration. However, the Chinese shipbuilding industry still lacked the experience and capability to build such a sophisticated platform. As a result, the PLA Navy sought to acquire a foreign-built carrier and/or its technologies in order to provide Chinese engineers with an example for imitation and reverse-engineering.

Between 1998 and 2000, private Chinese companies purchased three decommissioned ex-Soviet/Russian Navy aircraft carriers, the 45,000-t class Kiev class Minsk and Kiev, and the 67,500-t Kuznetsov class Varyag. The two Kiev class carriers were developed into floating tourism parks based in Shenzhen and Tianjin respectively. The third ship, Varyag, was said to be turned into a floating casino based in Macao, but was later handed to the PLA Navy for research and restoration refitting. The refurbished vessel was finally commissioned by the PLA Navy in September 2012 to become its first operational aircraft carrier, CV-16 Liaoning.

Varyag not only provided the PLA Navy with an operating platform, but also allowed Chinese shipbuilders to gain invaluable insight into its design and construction. Along with the vessel China also obtained its blueprints and design documentations, which were used to assist the design and construction of China’s first indigenous Type 001A aircraft carrier, which was launched in April 2017.

One obvious limitation of the Kuznetsov class is its ski-jump take-off method, which limits the amount of payload its aircraft can carry. The ultimate goal of the Chinese aircraft carrier programme is still to produce a CATOBAR-type carrier similar to those deployed by the U.S. Navy (albeit not necessarily nuclear-powered). This will likely be achieved on the second-generation Type 002 carrier, which is currently still in concept study stage.

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TYPE 001A

Type 001A CV-17

Type: Conventional aircraft carrier (CV). Builder: Dalian. IOC: 2019? Number: 1. Displacement (t): N/A. Length (m): N/A. Beam (m): N/A. Draft (m): N/A. Propulsion: Steam turbines. Speed (kn): N/A. Range (km): N/A. Complement: N/A.

China’s first indigenously-built aircraft carrier, the not-yet-named vessel was launched at Dalian Shipyard in April 2017. Designated as Type 001A, the aircraft carrier began construction in November 2013 and was modelled after CV-16 Liaoning, the refurbished ex-Soviet Navy carrier Varyag, with a redesigned superstructure island. The new carrier will likely be equipped with a similar amount of aircraft and identical weapon systems to its sister ship.

Name         No.    Builder   Fleet   Launched     Commissioned
----------------------------------------------------------------
-            17     Dl        -       2017-04-26   -

Dl.....Dalian Shipyard
  • Aircraft:
    • Shenyang J-15
    • Changhe Z-18F
    • Changhe Z-18J
    • Harbin Z-9C
  • SAM: N/A
  • Guns: N/A
  • Radar: N/A
  • Sonar: N/A
  • Countermeasures: N/A
  • Propulsion: Steam turbines, 8 boilers, 4 shafts, 200,000 hp (150 MW)
    • 4 × 50,000 hp (37 MW) turbines
    • 9 × 2,011 hp (1,500 kW) turbogenerators
    • 6 × 2,011 hp (1,500 kW) diesel generators
    • 4 × fixed pitch propellers

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TYPE 001 LIAONING CLASS

Type: Conventional aircraft carrier (CV). Builder: Nikolayev South / Dalian. IOC: 2012. Number: 1. Displacement (t): 53,050 standard, 59,100 full load. Length (m): 304.5. Beam (m): 75. Draft (m): 8.97. Propulsion: Steam turbines. Speed (kn): N/A. Range (km): N/A. Complement: 1,960 sea crew, 626 air group.

Originally laid down in December 1985 as the second hull of the Project 1143.5 (Admiral Kuznetsov class) aircraft carrier Riga for the Soviet Navy, the vessel was launched in 1988 and renamed Varyag in 1990. Construction of the vessel stopped in 1992 following the breakup of the Soviet Union, with only 70% of the construction work completed. The unfinished vessel was purchased by a private Chinese company in 1998 and was towed to Dalian Shipyard in 2002. After extensive restoration and refurbishing work, the vessel began sea trials in August 2011 and was officially commissioned into the PLA Navy as CV-16 Liaoning in September 2012. Flight operations with Shenyang J-15 multirole fighter and helicopters from the vessel began in November 2012. Following four years of testing and training, in November 2016 the Chinese state-run media declared the Liaoning being ‘combat ready’.

Name         No.    Builder   Fleet   Launched     Commissioned
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Liaoning*    16     NS        PLAN**  1988-12-04   2012-09-25

*ex-Varyag for the Soviet Navy
**Directly managed by the PLA Navy Headquarters
  • Aircraft:
    • 24x Shenyang J-15
    • 8x Changhe Z-18F
    • 4x Changhe Z-18J
    • 4x Harbin Z-9C
  • SAM: 3x 18-cell HHQ-10 launcher, IR/ImIR-homing, 6 km slant range
  • Guns: 3x Type 1130 11×30 mm CIWS, 10,000 rounds/minute to 2.5 km (against AShM) or 3.5 km (against aircraft) range
  • Radar:
    • 4x H/LJG346 ‘Dragon Eye’ APAR, air search, S-band
    • 1x H/LJQ-382 (Russian Fregat-M2EM ‘Top Plate’) air search, E-band
    • 3x H/LJP-349 CIWS fire-control, J-band (as part of Type 1130)
    • 3x Type 4 electro-optical director (EOD) CIWS fire-control (as part of Type 1130)
  • Sonar: N/A
  • Countermeasures: Unknown
  • Propulsion: Steam turbines, 8 boilers, 4 shafts, 200,000 hp (150 MW)
    • 4 × 50,000 hp (37 MW) turbines
    • 9 × 2,011 hp (1,500 kW) turbogenerators
    • 6 × 2,011 hp (1,500 kW) diesel generators
    • 4 × fixed pitch propellers

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