The PLA Navy is consistently implementing a program to create aircraft carriers, transferring to September 25 this year fleet the first aircraft carrier “Liaoning” with tail number 16. The aircraft carrier was created on the basis of the Varyag heavy aircraft carrier cruiser (TAVKR), built at the Black Sea Shipbuilding Plant (ChSZ) in Ukrainian Nikolaev.
A well-known Ukrainian shipbuilder, the former head of the aircraft carrier design bureau in the department of CSY chief designer Valery Babich, expressed his opinion on the Chinese program for the construction of aircraft carriers.
- What impression did the news about the commissioning of the aircraft carrier "Liaoning" make on you?
- The ceremony of handing over the ship to the fleet and the first rise of the naval flag was attended by the Secretary General of the CPC Central Committee, Chairman of the People's Republic of China Hu Jintao, Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China Wen Jiabao and other party and state leaders of the country. This once again underlines the importance of the ongoing program of creating aircraft carriers and shows the importance attached to this ship by the military-political leadership of the PRC. In the US, aircraft carriers are also transferred to the fleet in the presence of the president. But during the transfer of our aircraft carriers to the USSR Navy, leaders of this level were never present.
- Is the Chinese "Liaoning" a full-fledged aircraft carrier?
- Currently, it is a training ship, the presence of which will help prepare pilots deck aviation and aircraft maintenance specialists, as well as to teach designers and shipbuilders of the national industry a lot.
But this is not just a training ship, but an unprecedented full-scale polygon that could only be built by such a rich and far-reaching country like China. The tasks necessary for the creation of the following aircraft carriers will be set and tested there. We will see how quickly and qualitatively the Celestial Empire will increase its carrier fleet. And our “Variag” will help her in this, which neither Ukraine nor Russia needed, and who acquired China for 20 million dollars with such benefits.
In addition, in the People's Republic of China, a ground testing ground for testing naval aviation and training pilots of the NITKA type (ground testing and training aviation complex) in the Crimea was built. In fact, the name of the documentation was NIUTK - a ground test and training complex, which they soon soon began to be called simply “THREAD” for convenience, since all its components — the catapults and the landing blocks — were stretched out to the sea. NIUTK never called in use.
Creating your aircraft carrier cost China much cheaper compared to the cost of building such ships in the United States. The cost of the last US aircraft carrier "George W. Bush" reached 6,2 billion dollars, and the American aircraft carrier of the new generation "Gerald R. Ford", whose delivery to the US Navy is scheduled for 2015 year, is estimated at 8,1 billion, not counting 2,4 billion for research and development work (R & D) in the design. At the same time, the cost of "Varyag" in the case of its completion would be at current prices of the order of 3,5 billion dollars.
Time has shown that, despite all the difficulties with which Varyag was bought and then delivered, the game was worth the candle. The Chinese are good businessmen. When now we hear surprised cries: why did the Chinese suddenly launch our aircraft carrier, I can say the following: “Yes, because they turned out to be much smarter.”
- How was this aircraft carrier commissioned?
- In August, 2011, the ship went out for a week to the test. The Chinese military reported that the exit goal is to check the main power plant (GEM). Then in December 2011, and in 2012, several more sea exits were made. Initially it was supposed to adopt a ship at the end of 2012, but life made adjustments. The adoption of the aircraft carrier took place on 25 September 2012, against the background of the aggravation of the territorial dispute between Beijing and Tokyo over Senkaku Islands (the Chinese name is Diaoyudao), which Japan and China consider to be theirs. Perhaps the early transfer of the aircraft carrier to the naval forces is a political decision related to this conflict. In addition, the aircraft carrier was put into operation on the eve of the main national holiday of China - the anniversary of the founding of the PRC, which is celebrated on October 1.
For the final commissioning of the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaonin, it will be necessary to carry out full-fledged tests, including the GEM at full speed, which is about 30 units with a total capacity of four 200 turbines of thousands of horsepower. The aircraft carrier must go at full speed for at least three days, and this is a very difficult task. We have been strictly watched by the military representatives. At any stop of the ship, everything had to start over.
In the USSR, the factory running and state tests of such ships, together with the subsequent revision of the mechanisms, the final painting and the control exit to the sea, took one year. The same goes to China. I think the Chinese soberly assess the situation, since messages come from the Celestial Department of the Middle Kingdom that it will take another three years to bring the aircraft into full combat readiness. It is not excluded that Liaonin will eventually be put into operation as a full-fledged aircraft carrier. There are no technical obstacles to this.
The Celestial Empire plans to create up to four carrier-based strike groups (AUG) before 2020, each of which should be headed by one attack aircraft carrier. The escort fleet for AUG is already under construction.
- What difficulties did China face when commissioning an aircraft carrier?
- Greater complexity is the commissioning of the GEM and the main steam system, whose pipelines operate under enormous pressure 64 kg / cm2 at a temperature 470 degrees Celsius. It is known that on our ships the weak link was the boilers. This is the heart of the ship, just like atomic reactors on American aircraft carriers. The KVG-4 boilers, which produce 115 tons of steam of high parameters per hour, are unique in their characteristics units, but at the same time very difficult to maintain, requiring constant supervision of the automation. Sailors hardly coped with it. After leaving the factory team ship, there were cases of complete termination of the ship’s turn. The Chinese knew it. While “Varyag” was in Dalian, they removed one boiler and took it to the plant in Harbin, where they carefully studied and conducted comprehensive tests. It is likely that they brought the boilers to the desired condition and improved the automation. However, the tests and further operation of the aircraft carrier will show it. The Russians still have not been able to do this, as evidenced by the breakdown of the tests of the Indian aircraft carrier Vikramaditya, which is being re-equipped at Sevmash in Sevmash from our fourth TAVKR Admiral Gorshkov. According to reports from Russia, on this ship, during the development of a full-speed aircraft carrier, seven out of eight boilers failed.
The greatest difficulty for Chinese shipbuilders is the commissioning of the aircraft technical complex of the ship, which includes aerofinisers, an optical landing system, a radio engineering flight control system, an aviation fueling system, an aircraft power supply system and helicopters, aircraft lifts, gas shut-off panels, restraint devices aircraft before the start when the engine goes to full speed. It is necessary to install equipment and systems for routine maintenance of aircraft and much more. The most important on such a ship, where a large amount of flammable aviation fuel is stored, are fire-fighting systems. It is also necessary to ensure the safe storage of the ammunition and its quick delivery to the flight deck from the depth of the aviation cellars. After solving these problems, China will come close to creating its own carrier fleet.
- What should be the aircraft armament of this ship?
- “Varyag” was created for basing Su-27K (Su-33), MiG-29K and supersonic multi-purpose vertical / short take-off and landing Yak-141 fighter on it. When the ship was built in 1985 – 1991, the Su-27K and MiG-29K outperformed the US Navy F-14D Tomcat and F / A-18C Hornet fighters in their tactical and technical elements. And the Yak-141 generally overtook an American short-takeoff and vertical-landing F-35B aircraft for at least 20 years. The Yak-141 made the first landings on the Admiral Gorshkov TAKR in 1991, and the same F-35B aircraft in the USA still cannot be put into service. In addition, the Yak-44 РЛДН radar patrol and guidance aircraft and the whole Kamov helicopter family - the anti-submarine Ka-27, amphibious Ka-29, rescue Ka-27PS and the radar patrol Ka-31 РЛД were to be located on the ship. A total of 52 aircraft should be based on the ship.
- Why are there only Su-33 fighters left on Admiral Kuznetsov?
- Su-27K, received after adopting the designation Su-33, and MiG-29K - different planes in their capabilities. The first is in the air twice as long and takes more ammunition than the MiG-29K. But it is also more expensive in 2,5 times. On the other hand, the MiG-29K aircraft is one and a half times smaller in size, which means that they can be placed on the ship more. In addition, the MiG-29K was more maneuverable in combat and had an excellent electronic weapons control system not only for air-to-air missiles, but also for air-to-surface missiles, that is, it could be used as an attack aircraft for destroying ships and ground targets. Both planes are good. Therefore, it was planned to deploy three types of fighters on Varyag - Su-27K and MiG-29K, complementary to each other, as well as the Yak-141 fighter. The construction of MiG-29K and Yak-141 was stopped due to the suspension of funding during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now the MiG-29K fighter has been revived for the Indian aircraft carrier Vikramaditya. Of course, the Yak-141 will also be in demand in the event of a revival of the Russian aircraft carrier fleet, in particular, it could be used in the near future on Mistral-type helicopter carriers.
- Will China be able to provide its new aircraft carrier with aircraft?
- On the basis of the Su-27 aircraft, a carrier-based fighter is currently being created, which will meet the latest requirements. In the 90 of the 20th century, China bought a batch of Su-27 land fighters in Russia and a license to manufacture them. Production of Su-27 aircraft (Chinese designation J-11) is organized at an aircraft factory near Harbin. I saw J-11B at an exhibition in Harbin in 2006, and it made a strong impression on me. I never thought that the People's Republic of China in a short time would be able to create and master the production of its own version of one of our best fighters. Now, on the basis of this aircraft, China is creating a carrier-based fighter J-15, which in its performance characteristics will resemble the Russian fighter Su-27K, and maybe even surpass it. After all, more than 27 years have passed since the creation of the Su-20K, and the technology is not worth it. It should be noted that Ukraine helped the Celestial Empire by selling an experienced prototype of the Su-27K Soviet-era aircraft to it, which was located in the Crimea at the test site with the NITKA complex. Aircraft J-15 and will form the basis of the aviation wing of the aircraft carrier "Liaoning" and two subsequent ships that are being built now. The second and third aircraft carriers, similar to our Admiral Kuznetsov and Varyag, are scheduled to be handed over to the Navy in 2015 and 2017. The Chinese Z-8 AEW long-range radar patrol helicopter will also be based on these ships.
To make a full-fledged aircraft carrier, an aircraft of the radar patrol and targeting type of our Yak-44 XRDN or American E-2C / D Hawkai must be designed and built to control ship aviation and target it. This is the most difficult task for a ship that does not have a catapult, because this aircraft is quite heavy. We at one time did not decide it.
- What are the differences between the fifth Nikolaev aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, which is now part of the Northern Fleet of Russia, and the sixth, the Varyag?
- The aircraft carriers Admiral Kuznetsov and Varyag were built according to the same project - 11435, but at the last they decided to replace the Mars-Passat and Fregat-MA radar for the new radar system Forum. At the same time, it was decided to install a new TK-146 electronic warfare complex - Constellation-BR instead of the analogous Cantata-11435 complex installed at Admiral Kuznetsov. Replacing these two large electronic systems led to a change in the configuration of the ship's superstructure and a complete overhaul of more than 140 premises. This work until the end of 1991 year CSY managed to perform. Therefore, "Admiral Kuznetsov" and "Varyag" have some architectural differences.
- When was the construction of “Varyag” stopped?
- The construction of Varyag was stopped at the beginning of 1992 of the year when 67,7 percent was ready, and the readiness of the aviation complex was about 80. The aviation lifts and elevators of the aviation ammunition were already working on the temporary power supply, aerofinisers, the aviation fuel system, the aircraft and helicopter transportation system in the hangar were mounted. The installation of the machine-boiler rooms was completed on the ship, and the state of the energy compartments made it possible to take electrical power, begin to turn the mechanisms and conduct mooring tests. Delivery of the Navy ship was planned in 1993 year. However, at the beginning of 1992, funding for construction from the Russian Navy was discontinued. The ship was towed to a new quay wall, which was specially built for the seventh aircraft carrier, the nuclear Ulyanovsk, set up security, and it remained there for many years, awaiting its fate. A lot of buyers came, but China turned out to be the most persistent, and sold “Varyag” to it. The sale of such a ship is a very complicated process, since it is a military product and at that time the ship contained a lot of secret information. It was necessary to convince the government of Ukraine, as well as Russia, that all secret equipment would be removed from the ship before the sale.
- what is история sales of "Varyag"?
- This is a separate big topic, almost a detective story. Ivan Iosifovich Vinnik, in the past the main builder of aircraft carriers, knows her best, and when Varyag was sold he was deputy general director of CSY. He received the Chinese delegations, and then repeatedly flew to the “Varyag” in Dalian. The cost of an aircraft carrier like scrap at world prices was about five million dollars. China paid, as I said, 20 million and won the tender. However, at that time it was clear that the ship was not being bought as scrap metal or a casino, but as a future aircraft carrier.
- What part did the Black Sea Plant take in restoring the ship?
- “Varyag” arrived in Dalian 3 March 2002, with three CSY representatives on board, who accompanied the ship for the entire period of towing. For three years no work was carried out on the ship. There was a thorough study of its design and pre-production. In April-May, the 2005-th ship was docked in dry dock, confirming the excellent condition of the hull steel. This was facilitated by the quality paintwork of the underwater part and the measures taken at the Black Sea plant to prevent electrochemical corrosion of the hull. During docking, the outer board was cleaned and painted according to the full scheme used in the Chinese Navy. All bottom and adjacent to the sides of the tank cleaned and grounded. Painted superstructure and upper deck. The paintwork of drinking water cisterns made at ChSZ turned out to be of such high quality that no additional work was required to restore it. Despite the fact that 1991 years passed since the end of work on the ship in 15, most of the interior had the appearance that they had just been primed, and there was no need for a new painting. Dock repair done thoroughly and quickly. The work was done around the clock, all the brigades had radio control, and the organization of their actions in the vast sub-spaces was impeccable.
The “killing” carried out in October 2005 of the year showed that the most important characteristic for the ship - stability is normal. The Chinese have demonstrated that they can cope with the most complex warship, which is an aircraft carrier. A small group of six representatives of the Black Sea plant participated in the docking. Then the access to Ukrainian specialists to Varyag was closed and they did not appear there after 2005. All work Celestial performed independently. The ship is a military object, and the PRC keeps its secrets just as we did in the Soviet Union.
- Do you regret that you could not finish the construction of this ship?
- Of course, we regret that we did not complete the construction of the Varyag. But in general, it is good that the aircraft carrier is not cut, as happened with Ulyanovsk. In China, there are three of our aircraft carriers - "Kiev", "Minsk" and "Varyag", and I am pleased that they are not scrapped, but demonstrate the achievements of our shipbuilding during its greatest heyday.
- What features have aircraft carriers "Admiral Kuznetsov" and "Varyag" compared to the US?
- US aircraft carriers - ships of a higher class and have a more powerful aviation group, numbering up to 80 aircraft. In addition, they have a nuclear power plant, which provides them with virtually unlimited navigation area. At Kuznetsov and Varyag, the Granit cruise anti-ship missile (ASM) complex was installed, capable of hitting targets over a distance of 500 kilometers at a speed of M = 2,5, that is, more than 3000 kilometers per hour. In the 90s, it was formidable weapon and the Americans were afraid of him, but in general, the placement of missile weapons on our aircraft carriers reduced their capabilities as aircraft carriers. There were no catapults on our aircraft carriers for taking off aircraft, and this also limited their capabilities. Catapults were to be installed on the seventh aircraft carrier - the atomic "Ulyanovsk".
- What difficulties did CSY encounter in the construction of Ulyanovsk?
- We went in the creation of aircraft carriers in our own way, and our oversaturated heavy armament cruisers, of course, were a threat to a potential enemy and were the subject of serious analysis by the military experts of the NATO countries. We had only one step to make these ships atomic. Everything else was enough for them.
The total power of the four-nuclear power plant on the Ulyanovsk 280 has thousands of horsepower (4х70 thousand) - more than on American nuclear aircraft carriers of the Nimitz type, which have a power of nuclear GEM of 260 thousand horsepower. In 1990 – 1991, ChSZ received from Russian enterprises a reactor vessel, steam generator, pipe systems, pumps, filters, and proceeded to the installation of a nuclear steam generating plant. One unit had time to weld, the second assembled and prepared for welding. The ease with which the work on the “Ulyanovsk” at the Black Sea Plant was proceeding indicates that we were ready to create this type of ships much earlier. At the time of the termination of construction, the almost finished Ulyanovsk building with the main mechanisms stood on the zero stocks. With the creation of this ship, we went to the level reached by American shipbuilders.
Varyag was to be transferred to the fleet in the 1993 year, and the next - the nuclear aircraft carrier Ulyanovsk - in the 1996. The Black Sea Plant was preparing to cut metal for the second nuclear aircraft carrier of the 11437 project (order 108, still no name), which should have been laid right after the descent of Ulyanovsk in 1992. Thus, if the planned plans for the construction of aircraft carriers with the periodicity of handing over the fleet of one ship every three years were fulfilled, then the 2010-s could have been built and transferred to the Navy TAKR Varyag and five atomic aircraft carriers of the Ulyanovsk type. And three more would be in construction.
The social and economic cataclysms that occurred during the perestroika period destroyed these plans. If you ever have to start over again, then you will need to spend a lot of effort, money and time to achieve the technical and intellectual milestone on which we already were. Specialists from leading countries of the world include the design and construction of nuclear aircraft carriers to the category of unique technologies, and by the end of the 80 of the XX century we already owned such technologies.
- What do you think, what aircraft carriers will build Russia in the future?
- Russia is going to resume construction of aircraft carriers with 2020 year. They will catch up again, but now China too. The Russian press reports that the new aircraft carrier will be similar in size to the current Admiral Kuznetsov, but, of course, made at a higher level. One of our largest design bureaus, the Nevskoye PKB in Leningrad, which worked in continuous and strong bond with ChSZ in Nikolaev for 70 years, was engaged in designing ships of this class. All 20 years since the termination of the construction of aircraft-carrying ships NPKB continued their design and improvement. I think that the new Russian aircraft carrier will be built on the technical level of the best ships of the 21st century.
- What can be said about the future of Ukrainian shipbuilding?
- The state of the industry is most directly dependent on cooperation with Russia. Southern shipyards have always played a big role in the creation of the Navy of Tsarist Russia, and then of the Soviet Union. During Soviet times, Ukraine produced about 40 percent of ships for the Navy, not counting, of course, nuclear submarines, whose production was concentrated in Russia.
In my opinion, Russia now does not have enough production capacity to revive its navy, while in Ukraine there are seven large shipyards. ChSZ in Nikolaev - the builder of battleships, cruisers, submarines and aircraft carriers - the largest of them.
Nicholas shipyards have a huge technical potential, and they are trained for them here, in one of our best educational institutions - the National University of Shipbuilding named after Admiral Makarov, who from 1930 to 1994 was known as the legendary Nikolaev Shipbuilding Institute. Nikolaev shipyards historically and technologically formed to create ships, saturated with sophisticated military equipment. It is in this direction that they can best express themselves in the future. I think that the future of our shipbuilding is in close cooperation with Russia.