Before building new ships with an aviation group, China needs to decide on the concept of their use, which will directly affect the appearance of these aircraft carriers. In this context, first of all, it is worth remembering the American and Soviet approaches to the creation of aircraft carriers. Since the times of the Second World War, the United States has been building its aircraft carriers as ships, which are the basis of carrier strike groups. In this case, carrier-based aviation is an additional means of detecting targets and a “long arm” capable of performing a wide range of tasks for the destruction of enemy targets. In this case, the aircraft carrier itself is engaged only in ensuring the work of the aircraft. All other tasks, such as the detection and destruction of enemy submarines, etc., are assigned to escort ships. Carrier strike groups are currently the basis of the striking power of the US Navy. They are able to arrive in a short time in the desired area and strike at the enemy or, as it is called, to project force.
Soviet aircraft carrying cruisers were created according to a different concept. The main task of their aircraft was the air defense of the formation in which such a ship operates. In addition, the characteristic distinction of all Soviet ships of the 1143 family projects was the presence of their own anti-ship weapons. Thus, an aircraft carrying cruiser, with some reservations, could take on some of the functions of cruisers or escort destroyers. The main task of the Soviet ship groups with aircraft-carrying cruisers, as was seen in past years, was the support and protection of submarines with strategic missiles. Now, for obvious reasons, it is difficult to talk about the correctness of such a decision. American carrier strike groups regularly participate in various conflicts, and the capabilities of the Russian Navy have long prevented working according to old ideas.
China can choose any of these concepts, but the implementation of its counterpart to the American strategy looks the most plausible. In recent years, Chinese shipbuilders are actively updating the navy and build, including large warships. The current state of affairs in this area may serve as a hint that over the next few years, China will be determined to begin patrolling the Pacific region. With such a development of events, carrier strike groups will prove to be the most profitable method of ensuring a presence in different parts of the Pacific Ocean and demonstrating their military capabilities.
Regardless of the carrier development strategy fleet the question remains of the required number of aircraft carriers. Currently, the PLA Navy has only one such ship, which, moreover, is not yet ready for full service. There are different opinions about the required number of aircraft carriers. One of the most popular is one that talks about five or six ships of this class. This opinion has justification in the form of simple arithmetic: the Chinese Navy consists of three fleets and each of them must have at least one carrier group, or even two such formations. At the same time, the current number of Chinese fleets suggests that the smallest operational-strategic association (North Sea Fleet) can receive only one aircraft carrier. However, despite its strength, it is the North Sea Fleet that is equipped with nuclear submarines carrying strategic missiles. Thus, in the development of the Soviet concept of the use of aircraft carriers, the North Sea Fleet takes on a special priority.
Even having decided on the main directions of development of its carrier fleet, China will have to solve a lot of technical issues. First of all, it is a question of the power plant. "Liaoning" is equipped with a steam turbine power plant, typical of the majority of large ships of the Soviet development. Perhaps future Chinese aircraft carriers will receive nuclear power plants, which may contribute to the presence of certain developments in the field of reactors for submarines. Nevertheless, the development of a full-fledged nuclear power plant, designed for use on aircraft carriers, in any case will take a lot of time. For this reason, the new Chinese aircraft carriers of the first projects will be equipped with the same steam-turbine units.
It is noteworthy that almost all countries that currently own aircraft carriers have gone from steam turbine to nuclear power plants. For example, in the US Navy until the beginning of the XXI century, aircraft carriers with power plants of both types served at the same time. The last of the steam turbine aircraft carriers (USS Kitty Hawk CV-63) was withdrawn from the fleet only in 2009 year. France in the mid-nineties, in addition to two old aircraft carriers such as Clemenceau, built the atomic Charles de Gaulle. At about the same time in the Soviet Union it was planned to build the first domestic aircraft carrier carrying the Ulyanovsk. However, economic, political and other problems at first slowed down the construction of this ship, and the subsequent collapse of the country led to a complete halt. The unfinished hull of the Ulyanovsk was disposed of and the Russian Navy still has only one ship with an aviation group on board.
As you know, when converting the "Varyag" in "Liaoning", the Chinese abandoned anti-ship missiles. So the only shock weapons "Liaoning" and, probably, the following Chinese aircraft carriers are planes. The "Liaonin" will be based multifunctional fighter Shenyang J-15, which is not without reason to be considered a copy of the Soviet / Russian Su-33. At the end of last year, official representatives of the Chinese Ministry of Defense stated that J-15, firstly, is a completely independent development based on the previous J-11 (an unlicensed copy of Su-27), and secondly, in no way inferior, and even surpasses the Russian Su-33 in some characteristics. One could be happy for the Chinese aircraft manufacturers, if not for a couple of interesting nuances. J-15 first took to the air in 2009 year. Su-33, in turn, first flew a quarter of a century ago. Thus, in the field of carrier-based fighters of the Chinese aviation industry, it was possible to catch up with the Soviet branch of the model of the mid-eighties. It is not difficult to imagine the ratio of the combat potentials of the J-15 and, for example, the latest American F / A-18. It is unlikely that the comparison will be in favor of the first. It is worth noting, J-15 will be adopted no earlier than the next 2014 of the year. Thus, over the next few years, China simply will not have a carrier-based fighter capable of fighting with the aircraft of developed countries on an equal footing.
Imagine that China still managed to solve all the problems and build several new aircraft carriers with modern fighters. In this case, the question of their application comes to the fore. Ideally, it should be solved at the design stage of new ships, but the concept of their combat use will be subject to various adjustments all the time. In the context of increasing China’s military power, a hypothetical war with Taiwan is constantly mentioned. It is easy to see that the participation of aircraft carriers in such a conflict is not mandatory. In such a war, frigates, corvettes and landing ships will be much more relevant. The island of Taiwan is located in the zone of operations of the Chinese coastal aviation, and therefore the use of aircraft carriers with J-15 fighter-bombers seems inappropriate.
The use of aircraft carriers also looks unnecessary or optional in the case of some other disputed territories that are within the reach of ground-based aviation. The result is that aircraft carriers and support ships must operate at a great distance from the bases. Thus, the entire Pacific and the entire Indian Ocean will become the responsibility zone of future Chinese aircraft carriers. Thanks to this, China will receive a convenient tool of political pressure on rivals in the region, primarily the United States and India. Given the recent trends in the development of the armed forces of these three countries, it can be assumed that by the year of 2020 in the southern Pacific, the Chinese Navy will be inferior only to the US Navy.
As for the northern part of the Pacific region, here the Chinese aircraft carriers can become the most real headache for the Japanese naval self-defense forces. Ship groups with aviation, if necessary, are capable of attempting to attack any part of Japan, which will contribute to the island position of this country. Undoubtedly, aircraft carriers will become an indispensable element of Sino-Japanese international relations, after all, Beijing will not fail to once again put pressure on the intractable neighbor with the help of ships with an air group.
In general, the construction of several aircraft carriers will significantly raise the combat potential of the Chinese naval forces. Thanks to such ships, the People's Republic of China is capable of permanently securing the title of regional leader, who is able to dictate his will to neighboring states. But there is one huge problem: the only PLA Navy aircraft carrier is still not suitable for full-fledged combat work and does not have a sufficient number of deck-based aircraft. If Chinese shipbuilders expect to gain experience in the operation of Liaonin and, based on the information gathered, design and build new aircraft carriers, then the process of implementing the entire aircraft carrier program may drag on for many years. Under favorable circumstances, Liaoning will be fully equipped with aircraft no earlier than 2016 of the year. By this date, you need to add a couple of years, during which the ship will spend on hikes, ensuring the work of the aircraft and - most importantly - showing their positive and negative features. Some more time should be spent on analyzing the collected data and designing a new aircraft carrier.
Of course, the construction of a second Chinese aircraft carrier, this time completely independent, can begin at any time, even before the completion of work on the J-15 project, etc. But in this case, the new ship runs the risk of “inheriting” some problems, both technical and ideological. Only the command of the Chinese army knows exactly how the new aircraft carriers will serve, and because of this, now, in the absence of experience in operating such ships, China may choose the wrong path for their development. Therefore, the construction of a new aircraft carrier, developed taking into account the positive and negative experience, should be expected no earlier than the end of the current decade. At the same time, one can expect the appearance of new deck-based aircraft, as well as the creation of a special nuclear power plant.
Obvious is the fact that the creation of a powerful and modern aircraft carrier fleet is expensive and time consuming. But China, apparently, intends to further develop its armed forces. Over the past few years, a lot has been done to update them and in the foreseeable future, the PLA will receive new weapons and equipment. However, in the case of aircraft carriers, as with any other complex defense program, many different issues that need to be addressed immediately come to the fore. If commanders from Beijing fail to respond to them in time, the effectiveness of new aircraft carriers may not be sufficient for the tasks assigned to them.
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