China's PLAN Aircraft Carrier on Sea Trials after Dalian Refit

By George Backwell at August 14, 2011 04:22
Filed Under: Navy News

PLAN (Peoples Liberation Army Navy) first aircraft carrier was reported by Reuters to be heading out for sea trials last Wednesday, in her wake the Dalian naval shipyard in Northeast China, shrouded in a thick fog which conveniently served to obscure the Shi Lang from eyes keen to make out the superstructure and gauge something of military capabilities kept well under wraps by the authorities. The official news agency, Xinhua, averred: “Building a strong navy that is commensurate with China's rising status is a necessary step and an inevitable choice for the country to safeguard its increasingly globalised national interests." Words that sent ripples of anxiety spreading throughout the Asia Pacific region.

Shi Lang (ex Varyag) off Istanbul Photo: U.S. Federal Government


Aircraft Carrier Shi Lang

Not a newbuilding, but the the former Soviet Union’s Admiral Kuznetsov-class carrier Varyag, never previously operational according to reports, and subsequently gutted out and refitted after arrival in China from the Ukraine ten years ago after a circuitous 15,200 mile towage operation (via the Bosporus, Mediterranean and Cape) the Shi Lang (renamed for the Chinese general who took possession of Taiwan in 1681) is 300m overall with a design loaded displacement of 65,000 tonnes at a draft of 11 m.

Armaments and machinery were removed prior to delivery, and China seems reluctant to make public details of what has been installed during the extended refit period in the naval dockyard, not least something about about the propulsion system. The original Soviet design called for eight oil-fired boilers and four steam turbines, each producing 50,000 hp (37 MW), driving four shafts with fixed-pitch propellers. With this configuration maximum speed would have been 29 knots (54 km/h), and her range at maximum speed 3,800 miles (6,100 km).
Operational Potential

Smaller than the American Nimitz-class carriers and without their catapult-type aircraft launch facility, China's new carrier is constructed with a ‘ski-jump’ ramp to enable an unasisted  take-off. Military analysts observe that this system precludes flying off heavier planes making it seem likely that Shi Lang will primarily be used to extend the umbrella of Chinese air cover from its own shores. 

Summing up the potential  Adm. Robert Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said in an April interview with Bloomberg that he did not feel concerned about China's first carrier going to sea, but: "Based on the feedback that we received from our partners and allies in the Pacific, I think the change in perception by the region will be significant." Reportedly China has plans to build at least two more aircraft carriers to its own designs.



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