Sunday, December 13, 2009

Is China possible to build an Aircraft Carrier?

Varyag in Dalian Shipyard of China

Is it possible for China to build an aircraft carrier by itself? The answer will be negative, because too many key technologies have not been handled by China. These technologies include those on marine engine, aircraft catapult, carrier-based aircraft, and aircraft landing brake, etc.

China now is capable of building 100,000-tonne or even 300,000-tonne oil tankers and cargo ships whose speeds are only 10 to 20 knots. Their engines are difficult to propel an aircraft carrier to a speed of 30 knots and withstand a sudden acceleration and deceleration an aircraft carrier always demands.

In Chinese fleet, the largest Type 052C destroyer is only 7,500 tons. Only a very few countries in the world are able to make carrier-use engines. The United States and the European Union will not sell these engines to China due to arms embargo, and no such a deal has been heard between China and Ukraine or Russia. China also needs time to develop its marine engine technology to build a carrier-use engine.

In 1985, China bought an Australian scraped aircraft carrier Melbourne. Although weapon and electronic and electric system was dismantled before it was towed to China, the steam catapult device and the blocking cable system were still remained on board; however, the catapult device was a outdated towline ejection technology but not the front-wheel ejection technology that has been used by U.S. steam ejection from 1964 till now.

From the scraped Melbourne, China maybe can learn only a little bit about the landing brake---blocking cable system, because the landing speeds of modern fighters are much larger than that of the planes in the years of carrier Melbourne.

Due to lacking steam catapult technology, Chinese carrier may have to use slip-jump deck to take off the carrier-based aircraft on board. This take-off method demands specially designed ship-based aircraft, and the combat aircraft would be difficult to take off at full load. This would severely limit the carrier-based aircraft's combat capability due to less loaded ammunition.

Without the catapult device, fixed-wing early-warning aircraft with detecting range over 500km cannot take off on board. In stead, the aircraft carrier has to rely on early warning helicopters, whose detecting range is only less than 150km. Because China has no special designed carrier-based aircraft yet, there are guesses that China is negotiating with Russia for that. But there are also news reports that Russia refuses to sell Su-33 fighters to China, because Russia is worrying its technology will be copied by China.

The analysis tells us China still has no mature technology to build an aircraft by itself. Many Chinese military fans are rumoring about Russian scraped carrier Varyag that is modifying in China Dalian Shipyard. One Chinese naval analyst even said Varyag would be China’s first aircraft carrier. If that is true, this carrier won’t have real combat ability due to the immature technologies in China after it is modified. Some analysts say it will be used for training purpose and testing on carrier-technologies once it is put into service. Some people even guess Varyag will be used as a tourist attraction during its idle time after it is commissioned.