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China will become the third country in Asia, after India and Thailand, which has a fleet of aircraft carriers. However, it is very different with the aircraft carrier INS Viraat (weighing 28 700 tons in full load condition; length of 226.5 meters) owned by India or HTMS Chakri Naruebet (11 486 tons; 182.65 meters) of the Kingdom of Thailand.

China's aircraft carrier-which, according to Jane's Fighting Ships will be named Shi Lang, the Chinese admiral's name from the Qing Dynasty in the 17th century, weighs 67,500 tons with a length of 300 meters. Compared with the super aircraft carriers (supercarrier) the Navy's Nimitz class of United States, Shi Lang 32 meters shorter.

USS Nimitz

USS Nimitz (courtesy of Wikipedia)

This supercarrier was built from the former Soviet Union aircraft carrier, Varyag, which construction is halted in the early 1990s inline with the dissolution of the communist superpower. This ship is equal with the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, which is still the only aircraft carrier that operated by the Russian navy to this day. 

In 1998, a private Macau company bought the semi-finished ship that was worth 20 million US dollars from the Government of Ukraine. Initially, these vessels will be used as a floating casino at the port of Macao.

However, in its development, the ship that did not have the engine, steering, navigation, and communication equipment was transported to a Chinese government-owned shipyard in the Port of Dalian, northeast China.

The started rusting hull was later cleaned and painted with a distinctive color Navy ships of the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Allegedly, China built this ship to be an operational ship, as part of the training prior to manufacture aircraft carriers that are 100 percent made in China. 

Shi Lang (courtesy of www.jeffhead.com)

If it compared with the Admiral Kuznetsov, Shi Lang will be able to carry 41 aircraft, consisting of 17 fixed-wing aircraft class Sukhoi Su-33 and Sukhoi Su-25, and 24 helicopters (rotary wing) Kamov Ka-27 class. China reportedly has ordered 50 Su-33 aircraft, with a specification capable of taking off from aircraft carriers, to Russia.

This ship has not used nuclear power sources and do not have a steam catapult system to launch aircraft, like the major US aircraft carriers. Instead, at the end of the deck is equipped with a ski-jump, a runway angled upward, helping the plane "jump" to the air.

Previously, the U.S. Navy intelligence estimate, ex-Varyag ship would be used as a training base in 2012, before China launched its own homemade aircraft carrier after 2015. According to Michael Mazza, a senior researcher from the Center for Defense Studies (www.defensestudies.org), China plans to build four aircraft carrier, two nuclear-powered ships and two conventional ships -in 15 years.

The launching of full powered aircraft carrier marks the new era of China military strategy and prove the country's long ambition to build a naval force "Sea Blue" (blue-water navy), the navy that is capable of operating far into the ocean, the Chinese military to project its force far from home.

China's excellence ambitions

This ambition, according to an article written by Ian Storey and You Ji at GlobalSecurity.org, has existed since the era of Admiral Liu Huaqing, China and the Navy Commander Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the 1980s.

According to Liu, after mastering the strategy of "Sea Green", (a naval power to defend the territorial sea and coastline), China must master the strategy of "Blue Sea", with the objective is capable of projecting the power to the western Pacific Ocean.

Liu believes the only way to run a strategy of "Blue Sea" is by having a fleet of aircraft carriers capable of carrying aircraft, for excellence in the sea can only be achieved through the superiority of the air. While the idea of ​​a plane that took off from its mainland and continued to refuel in the air is considered too vulnerable to enemies attack that is able to fly a fighter plane from the enemies’ aircraft carrier.

However, Liu's ambitions can not be directly done at that time because in the era of the 1980s, the Chinese People's Liberation Army was still focusing in holding the threat of Soviet Union. Only after the communist country ended (1991), China can divert its attention to the area of ​​the South China Sea and Taiwan.

China needs a formidable naval force to deal with conflict in the south and southeast of the country. The idea of ​​building a Navy "Blue Sea" which reinforced the carrier had risen again.

To realize his ambitions, China has bought at least four used-aircraft carriers, the HMAS Melbourne from Australia (purchased in 1985) and three ships from Rusia, ie, Minsk (1998), Varyag (1998), and Kiev (2000). China intended to build its own ship design by learning its aircraft carrier and rejected sales contract carriers from Spain and France.

Previously, the military observers thought that China's aircraft carrier project was too ambitious and would not be able to do much to counter U.S. aircraft carrier fleet, the only potential enemy of China when the conflict erupted in Taiwan, Korea, and South China Sea. Instead of trying to emulate the U.S. Navy fleet, analysts predicted China would run a strategy of asymmetric warfare, namely by developing missiles of paralytic aircraft carrier.

The latest generation of China's anti-carrier ballistic missile, Dong Feng (East Wind) DF 21D, which is capable of racing at speeds of Mach 10 and defenseless cruise 3,000 kilometers, is expected to begin to be tested this year and be operational within the next 3-5 years.

Changing the far East Asia

The reports that China will also launch its first aircraft carrier this year prove that its old ambitions have not been lost and missile development in paralytic aircraft carrier is just one part of China's future grand strategy in the ocean.

Although China has always argued its military development program is for peaceful purposes and self defense, the operation of the carrier force by China will change the map of power in East Asia-Southeast Asia.

Mazza reminded, aircraft carriers represent the capability of projecting power, which is carrying out military forces from the territory of the country to the point where they want. So it does not always become strength of a country to survive.

With China's territorial claims to the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Ocean and Taiwan, its support for North Korea, and the territorial conflicts with Japan, the China’s operation of fleet of aircraft carriers will further strengthen the suspicion all along that China would not hesitate to use "gunboat diplomacy" to impose his will as a dominant force in the region.

Storey and You added that ASEAN member countries, particularly that dispute directly with China in the Spratly and Paracel affairs, will strengthen cooperation with the U.S. military. While Japan will almost certainly revive its aircraft carrier program, which had proved to be very scary in the era of World War II.

Source: Reuters

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