Tag Archives: PLA-N

China’s Navy Commissions Its First Aircraft Carrier

Military officers stand onboard China's aircraft carrier "Liaoning" in Dalian, northeast China's Liaoning Province, Sept. 25, 2012. China's first aircraft carrier was delivered and commissioned to the Navy of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Tuesday after years of refitting and sea trials. (Xinhua/Zha Chunming)
There was a certain symbolism to the timing of the formal commissioning of China’s first aircraft carrier into the PLA-Navy (above, with more pictures of the ceremony at a naval base north of Dalian here). It came as Beijing is embroiled in maritime sovereignty disputes with most of its neighbours in the East and South China Seas. Carriers project the epitome of naval power, and as many officials have repeated, are “symbols of a great nation”.

It is worth remembering, however, that China’s first carrier–a refitted ex-Soviet carrier, the Varyag, now renamed the Liaoning–falls into the class of light aircraft carriers. As a “ski-jump” not “catapult” carrier, it can’t launch the most advanced fighters. It is as much an aviation-capable patrol ship as a carrier of the line. It is primarily intended for the PLA to learn the ropes of carrier operations.

At the 58,500-tons, the vessel is small by carrier standards. It is about half the size of U.S. carriers, even if still large enough to dwarf the coast guard boats and fishing vessels now increasingly plying the more sensitive disputed waters off the coasts of China and its neighbours. This year was always the intended date of its commissioning, but state media have previously reported that the carrier won’t be ready for active service until 2017, which is not to say it won’t be available for flag-waving duties before then. But it is also worth remembering that two larger and more advanced carriers are under construction in yards in Shanghai planned for launch in 2014 with a first nuclear powered carrier scheduled for launch by 2020.

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China’s First Aircraft Carrier Not Expected To Be In Service Until 2017

Varyag, China's first aircraft carrier
China’s first aircraft carrier won’t be ready to be put into active service until 2017, state media report. The reports, accompanied by a set of mix’n’match pictures mostly of the Varag at berth in Dalian, go to some length to explain that sea trials of new carriers are a lengthy business everywhere.

Late last month the carrier completed its ninth and longest sea trial to date, a 25-day sailing in the north Bohai and Yellow seas, where it was first spotted at sea. There is a set of pictures of the a vessel returning from its most recent voyage here.

While it is thought that the Varyag is fully equipped with its missiles and other armaments, further tests are needed to ensure that the various electrical systems on the vessel don’t interfere with each other. Flight crews also need considerable practice in the all-important art of taking off and landing on the carrier at sea, and particular in simulated combat conditions. The Varyag is estimated to need 30 pilots, all of which will take some time to train.

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China’s First Aircraft Carrier Sets Out On Third Sea Trials

China’s first aircraft carrier is conducting its third set of sea trials, the defense ministry says. The Varyag had set out on its second sea trials at the end of November, during which it was photographed at sea for the first time by an American satellite. The picture above is one of the latest of the vessel to be published, and is believed to be of the former Soviet carrier again leaving its berth in Dalian where it had been refurbished. That it is dated December 22nd suggests the carrier has been at sea for several days.

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Picture Of China’s First Aircraft Carrier At Sea

China's first aircraft carrier, the Varyag, in the Yellow Sea, December 8, 2011

The satellite picture above is the first reported sighting at sea of China’s first aircraft carrier, the Varyag. It was taken by a U.S. imaging company, Digital Globe, on December 8, and shows the vessel in the Yellow Sea some 100 kilometers south-southeast of Dalian, the port where the converted former Soviet carrier has been refitted. The carrier sailed from Dalian on November 29 to undertake its second sea trials. We have photos of it leaving port and of the first test flight of the carrier-based J-15 fighter in PLA-Navy colors that is being developed to equip China’s planned carrier fleet here.

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Pictures Of China’s First Aircraft Carrier Leaving For Its Second Sea Trial

These two pictures of China’s first aircraft carrier, the Varyag, were taken on November 29th as the vessel was leaving its berth in Dalian for its second sea trials.

The first sea trials took place in August. There are plenty of pictures of the ship’s return here.

Meanwhile, state media has published what is says are pictures of the test flight of a carrier-based J-15 fighter, though the photograph is undated. (Similar pictures of a J-15 in PLA-Navy colours were doing the rounds in April.) China has produced three prototypes of the aircraft. There has been speculation that a landing and takeoff from the carrier may have been attempted during the second sea trial but it is more likely that any such exercise would have involved helicopters in the first instance.

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Seychelles Latest Addition To China’s String Of Pearls?

The so-called string of pearls—a series of naval bases in South and Southeast Asia intended to secure Chinese sea lines of communication across the Indian Ocean–looks to be adding another gem. Beijing has indicated that it will start using the Seychelles to resupply its naval fleet, initially PLA-Navy vessels on anti-piracy patrols, but also prompting speculation that this is a prelude to establishing a naval base there. Defense Minister Liang Guanglie was in the Seychelles earlier this month to boost bilateral ties. Seychelles President James Alix Michel visited Beijing in October. The two countries have had a military cooperation agreement since 2004 that provides for Seychelles soldiers to be trained in China.

Pearls already in the string include Marao in the Maldives, Gwadar in Pakistan, Chittagong in Bangladesh, Sittwe in Burma, Lamu in Kenya and Hambantota in Sri Lanka. China also has resupply agreements with Oman and Yemen, similar to the one being initially proposed with the Seychelles. The U.S. has a drone base in the Seychelles, but the arrival of the Chinese fleet in such a strategically important part of the Indian Ocean would give rise to most concern in New Delhi.

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Second Sea Trials For China’s First Aircraft Carrier


China’s much-watched first aircraft carrier, a refitted old Soviet carrier, the Varyag, has set out on its second sea trial, state media report. (Defense ministry statement, in Chinese.) The photo above, taken on Nov. 29, shows the carrier heading out of Dalian, where its conversion work has been done.

The Varyag’s first sea trials took place in August. The vessel has since been back in its dock in Dalian for further fitting out. It second voyage is thought to be for additional systems testing and crew training. It is unclear whether the carrier will join up with any of the annual exercises the PLA-Navy is currently conducting in the western Pacific.

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China’s Combat Catamarans

The Chinese People's Liberation Army navy's new generation of missile speed boats.

State media has been posting pictures of the PLA Navy’s latest generation of missile fast attack craft. The first of the high-speed catamarans appeared as long ago at 2004, but the fleet is being steadily built out, and now numbers in the dozens. We do wonder why they are being shown off now though, beyond showing there is more to the PLA-N than just an aircraft carrier.

The PLA-N is believed to be the first navy to use combat catamarans, as opposed to catamaran support vessels. Its are equipped with eight YJ-83 anti-ship missiles, launched from two pods at the stern. There is 30mm artillery for short-range air defence on the bow deck, plus a couple of  four-tube tube launchers. The hulls are constructed to be more stable in choppy seas than conventional catamarans and use a wave-piercing design from Australia that is also used in passenger ferries in China.

The camouflage paints used on the missile catamarans in the picture above suggest that they will be used in the southern fleet. Those deployed in northern waters use a four-color scheme that includes black, as seen in the picture below.

The Chinese People's Liberation Army navy's new generation of missile speed boat.

Update: This pictorial show of sea power may mirror a real one being reported by the Financial Times which says that a Chinese warship confronted an Indian navy vessel in the South China Sea shortly after it left Vietnamese waters in late July. The implication of the naval challenge is that China is enforcing its belief that it is entitled to police the entirety of the South China Sea, over which it claims a sovereignty not acknowledged by its regional neighbors.

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China’s Military Modernization On Track But Still A Way To Go

There isn’t anything eye-openingly new in the U.S. Defense Dept.’s latest annual report to the U.S. Congress assessing the state of China’s military. Like many others outside China, Pentagon planners remain nervous and uncertain about the geopolitical and military implications of the steady modernization of the People’s Liberation Army. Yet, their overwhelming, and, we hazard, accurate assessment is that the modernization of the PLA remains a work in progress, but one that is progressing to plan as China closes its military technology gap with the U.S., Russia and Japan. This passage sums it up:

Over the past decade, China’s military has benefitted from robust investment in modern hardware and technology. Many modern systems have reached maturity and others will become operational in the next few years. Following this period of ambitious acquisition, the decade from 2011 through 2020 will prove critical to the PLA as it attempts to integrate many new and complex platforms, and to adopt modern operational concepts, including joint operations and network-centric warfare.

Beijing set the PLA an objective of turning itself into a modern, regionally focused military by 2020. As the Pentagon’s report notes, it is pretty much on track. This year has seen two high profile milestones passed, the unveiling of a stealth aircraft, the J-20, in January and the sea trials of China’s first aircraft carrier earlier this month. But the Pentagon believes it will be the end of this decade before China is able to project even a modest scale of long-distance force, which it defines as several battalions of ground forces or a naval battle group of up to a dozen ships, in even low-intensity operations.

This evolution will lay the foundation for a force able to accomplish a broader set of regional and global objectives. However, it is unlikely that China will be able to project and sustain large forces in high-intensity combat operations far from China prior to 2020.

The key question is how effectively the PLA will meld its emerging platforms and capabilities, such as its growing number of ballistic missiles, into an effective fighting force. This will take time. Training and integration are a crucial task for the PLA high command in the coming years. It may be getting new toys, but its human capital is only now being upgraded. The PLA is poor at inter-service command cooperation and lacks experience in both joint exercises and operations, one reason that China is becoming more engaged in international humanitarian, disaster-relief and anti-piracy missions as well as undertaking more bi- and multilateral joint military exercises.

Recent reshuffles of the PLA’s top brass and new appointments are bringing about generational change among the military leadership, raising professional standards and accelerating the modernization of its command-and-control structures. The Central Military Commission named six new full generals and 20 new lieutenant-generals in July; all of the latter group are members of the so-called fifth-generation leadership. This generational change is also, incidentally,  increasing the predominance of princelings, the offspring of the first generation of Mao’s revolutionary leaders and generals. That may mean the PLA gets even stronger support from civilian leaders (and vice versa as President assumptive Xi Jinping is himself a princeling); princelings are now the largest bloc within the military leadership. The CMC itself is likely to have a radical overhaul next year when many of its senior officers will have reached the age limit at which they have to stand down. The incoming leadership will be the most competent, best educated and professional the PLA has ever had, as well as being largely formed as individuals and officers in a China that has only been in the ascendant.

Taiwan contingency planning has largely dominated the PLA’s agenda throughout its modernization. Many of the PLA’s most advanced systems are based in its military regions opposite the island.

Although the PLA is contending with a growing array of missions, Taiwan remains its main strategic direction…The PLA seeks the capability to deter Taiwan independence and influence Taiwan to settle the dispute on Beijing’s terms. In pursuit of this objective, Beijing is developing capabilities intended to deter, delay, or deny possible U.S. support for the island in the event of conflict. The balance of cross-Strait military forces and capabilities continues to shift in the mainland’s favor.

China’s ability to sustain military power at a distance remains limited, if expanding, primarily through the PLA-Navy. A section of the report dealing with energy and security underlines the importance to China’s energy supply of securing sea lanes.

The report also flags up advances in China’s space and cyber operations, saying [Beijing] was “developing a multi-dimensional programme to improve its capabilities to limit or prevent the use of space-based assets by adversaries during times of crisis or conflict”. More importantly, China’s military strategists emphasize the importance of gaining the upper hand in electronic warfare early in a  war as being one of the primary tasks to ensure battlefield success. The report notes:

PLA theorists have coined the term “integrated network electronic warfare (wangdian yitizhan 网电体战)’ to describe the use of electronic warfare, computer network operations, and kinetic strikes to disrupt battlefield information systems that support an adversary’s warfighting and power projection capabilities. PLA writings identify integrated network electronic warfare as one of the basic forms of integrated joint operations,” suggesting the centrality of seizing and dominating the electromagnetic spectrum in PLA campaign theory.

However, the report also notes that, “In the case of cyber and space weapons, however, there is little evidence that China’s military and civilian leaders have fully thought through the global and systemic effects that would be associated with the employment of these strategic capabilities.”

As a footnote, this Bystander’s eye was caught by this sentence in the report, “For over a decade PRC leaders have identified the so called ‘China threat theory’ as a serious hazard to the country’s international standing and reputation.” True to form and theory, Beijing has denounced it. “The report does not hold water as it severely distorted the facts,” said defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujun.

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China’s First Aircraft Carrier Completes First Sea Trial

The Varyag is back at its berth in Dalian after its first four-day sea trial. While few details have been made public, and foggy weather would have restricted satellite observation, it seems that the carrier’s basic systems — engines, electronic systems, navigation systems — were being tested. All appears to have gone without undue incident. Firecrackers greeted the vessel’s return to port. Its weapons systems were covered up as tug boats guided it back in. There are plenty of pictures of the ship’s return on this site, which follows Chinese military affairs. Further fitting out of the Varyag, which was bought as an unfinished ship from the Ukraine, will now continue. The next important phase will be to commission its wing of J-15 fighters. It is expected the Varyag will go into service in about a year’s time, to mark the 85th anniversary of the PLA-Navy.

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