Will Take Long To Deploy Functional Aircraft Carrier, Says PLA Navy


QINGDAO – Even though it has conducted several flight tests on its first aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea, the Chinese Navy believes that it will take a “long time” to deploy a fully functioning warship and has asserted that its military policy will remain “defensive in nature” despite the induction of new and modern platforms.

In a rare insight into the aircraft carrier programme, the deputy chief of the PLA Navy’s North Sea fleet, where the first ‘Liaoning’ warship is currently undergoing tests, has said China will have a few aircraft carriers operational in the future to match its place in the global order.

“China is now at the early, beginning stage of deploying an aircraft carrier, I think it will take a rather long time (to deploy a functional carrier),” Rear Admiral Wang Ling, Deputy Chief of Staff of the PLA Navy’s North Sea Fleet, said in response to a question by The Indian Express. He added that the carrier is for “research, exercise and training”.

The Chinese Navy’s first carrier, christened the Liaoning, is now based at Qingdao and is undergoing a series of tests, both with fighter aircraft and other crew, to make it a fully functional warship. The ship returned earlier this month from a month-long sea deployment during which China certified its first crew for carrier operations, including pilots cleared for flight deck landings.

While Rear Admiral Ling has said it will take a long time in deploying the carrier, without going into specific details, it is estimated that the Liaoning will finally be based with the South Sea Fleet and could be operational within two years. The warship will be equipped with J 15 carrier-borne combat aircraft that are also being tested at present. China is also in talks with Russia for the procurement of more advanced Su 33 carrier-borne fighters.

While the PLA Navy was very guarded on particulars of the warship and its current status, the top North Sea Fleet officer said more aircraft carriers will be inducted in the future. “As China is now more and more important in the international arena, it is proper for it to have a few aircraft carriers. Our national policy has always been defensive, even with the aircraft carriers in our navy, we will stick to the principle of a defensive national policy,” Rear Admiral Ling said.

The top officer, who spoke extensively on the need for better relations and cooperation with the Indian Navy, also emphasised that it was the US and Japan, and not India that Beijing believes is involved in the “containment of China”.

“The Chinese Navy has a good understanding of how the Indian Navy works. We are expecting more cooperation with India in the future, including in performing escort operations in the Gulf of Aden,” the officer said.

In contrast, India will be adding its first new aircraft carrier in decades this December when the much delayed Vikramaditya will finally arrive from Russia. In comparison to the Chinese carrier, the Vikramaditya will be smaller in displacement but will be fully functional with all combat systems and will be operating the modern MiG 29 K fighters that have been fully tested on board the warship.

In addition, the Indian Navy has expertise of several decades in operating aircraft carrier in comparison to China that is the last nation among top spenders on defence to induct such a warship.

This correspondent was in Qingdao on the invitation of the All China Journalists Association

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