China’s Shandong aircraft carrier may be a paper tiger

Western military analysts say China’s first domestic aircraft carrier is a clone of Liaoning with limited operational capabilities. This is due to the absence of a catapult.

On December 17, the Chinese navy held a ceremony to receive and put into use its first domestic carrier. The ship was named Shandong. Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over the ceremony at the base on Hainan Island, where the ship will be stationed.

By putting the Shandong aircraft carrier into operation, the Chinese navy will become the second force in the world, along with the Royal Navy, to operate two aircraft carriers that can deploy fixed-wing aircraft operations.

The U.S. Navy is the world’s No. 1 force with 11 super aircraft carriers and nine amphibious ships that can deploy and withdraw fixed-wing aircraft. Commenting on China’s new aircraft carrier, defense analyst David Ax and editor of National Interest magazine said that Shandong is not a perfect aircraft carrier.

Hydrodynamic design and runway layout limit military potential and set limits in demonstrating the strength of the Chinese fleet. Because Shandong is simply a slightly more powerful copy of the Liaoning aircraft carrier, China’s first aircraft carrier, an unfinished aircraft carrier bought from Ukraine and refurbished into an aircraft carrier. Liaoning.

Liaoning and Shandong carriers do not have catapults like US aircraft carriers. The Chinese Navy does not have a vertical landing aircraft like the US F-35B or AV-8B Harrier, which allows it to turn assault landing aircraft into light aircraft carriers.

Two Chinese aircraft carriers use a “jump bridge” runway for aircraft to take off. The only Chinese aircraft fighter is the J-15. It is a clone from the Russian Su-33 fighter.

The aerodynamic design of the J-15 has many similarities with that of American, British and French aircraft. However, the “jump-bridge” runway makes the aircraft unable to carry maximum load of fuel and weapons. This reduces the overall combat power of the aircraft carrier, according to a report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) published in early 2019 on Chinese military power.

Limited capacity

A Chinese naval source once revealed that the bridge-runway limited the maximum payload of the aircraft to less than 30 tons. With that limit, J-15 cannot carry full fuel and weapons. That makes the range of aircraft operating is limited to short range.

Besides, the J-15 must operate with very little support from other aircraft. “The design of the jump-bridge runway means that Liaoning and Shandong aircraft carriers cannot operate specialized support aircraft such as command and early airborne warning aircraft,” DIA reports.

To compensate for the lack of command aircraft and early airborne warnings, China developed domestic Z-18 helicopters and purchased Russian Ka-31 equipped with aerial surveillance radar. These helicopters can partially offset the lack of airborne early warning capability until the aircraft carrier has a catapult.

The Shandong aircraft carrier has a larger hangar than Liaoning, allowing 36 J-15 fighters to be carried compared to 24 aircraft on the Liaoning aircraft carrier. However, Shandong still repeats similar restrictions to Liaoning, the DIA said.

DIA believes that China’s future aircraft carriers can overcome the restrictions on China’s first two aircraft carriers. Beijing is also building a third, larger, more modern aircraft carrier at a shipyard in Shanghai and could be operational by the early 2020s.

The new aircraft carrier will be China’s first aircraft carrier to be equipped with a catapult to enable the deployment of large-scale fixed-wing aircraft, according to the DIA.

Earlier, experts expected Beijing to build and operate six aircraft carrier combat groups. At that time, Liaoning and Shandong carriers will be tasked with regional defense rather than offshore operations, the DIA said.

However, in early December, a Chinese military source told the South China Morning Post that Beijing was implementing a plan to build a fourth aircraft carrier, but plans to build high-class aircraft carriers powered by nuclear power. has been delayed.

By the end of the 2020s, the Chinese navy is likely to have only four aircraft carriers and only two ships equipped with catapults capable of carrying full-fledged naval air forces.

At the time, the U.S. Navy could own more than 20 aircraft carriers, at least half of which could boast catapults and a powerful naval air force.

“More than any other technology, aircraft carriers allow the US military to deploy its power anywhere in the world. In an important measure of military strength, China is still far behind the US and may never catch up, ”explained MIT Technology Review, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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