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[MUST READ] Chinese building 93,000-ton supercarrier?

UPDATE: Over at the Weekly Standard’s weblog, Michael Goldfarb (who was kind enough to link this post) discusses the possible impact of China’s flattop program [Worldwide Standard.com]:

I’d still contend that, as Brookes put it, Chinese carriers would be “nuthin’ but big, fat gray targets,” but that doesn’t change the fact that an aircraft carrier would boost Beijing’s ability to project “soft power.” And deploying a Nimitz-sized nuclear carrier would, like the ASAT test, show that China is to be considered a military superpower.

Read the rest of the post on your own.

ORIGINAL POST: Citing a source familiar with Chinese military issues, the Hankyoreh Shinmun is reporting that China is secretly pushing the construction of a nuclear-powered “supercarrier” of 93,000 tons.

The source, presenting internal Chinese Communist Party documents, said China plans to build a 48,000-ton conventional-powered aircraft carrier (so-called “Project 085″) and a 93,000-ton monster carrier (“Project 089″). The materials presented said China’s Central Military Commission had recently approved both projects and spelled out both vessels’ displacement.

It was well known that China was planning to build a conventional carrier, but Beijing has yet to make public its plans to build a nuclear carrier.

According to the documents, the nuclear carrier—to be completed by 2020—is to be tasked to China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation’s Shanghai Jiangnan Shipyard [Global Security.org], which is capable of building oil tankers of 300,000 tons. The documents apparently mention that the planned carrier should be the size of the Ul’yanovsk [FAS], the planned Soviet nuclear carrier that was never completed.

If China completes the carrier, it would give the Chinese Navy a carrier approaching the size of the U.S. Nimitz class [Global Security.org], which is roughly 97,000 tons in displacement.

The documents say the conventionally powered Project 085 is a transitional project to the nuclear-powered Project 089. The mid-sized conventional carrier, to be completed by 2010, would displace 48,000 tons standard and 64,000 tons fully loaded. It will be able to hold 30-40 Jian-10 fighters [Global Security.org], which China began deploying last December. China is currently developing a naval version of the Jian-10; prior to development, China plans to decorate the ship with a compliment of 10-20 Russian-made Su-33s [Global Security.org].

The conventional carrier will be a modified version of the Soviet-built Varyag [Varyag World.com], which the Chinese have been playing with at China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation’s Dalian Shipyard [Global Security.org] since the Ukrainians sold it to them. Dalian Shipyard will be designing and building the conventional carrier. After Project 085 has been completed, the hull of the Varyag will be used for carrier landing exercises.

China’s carrier plans are in-line with comments made by the head of China’s National Defense Science, Technology, and Industry Commission, Zhang Yunchuan, who told reporters on March 16 that if things went smoothly, China could complete its indigenously built carrier by 2010.

A general-admiral rank figure in Korea’s Ministry of Defense, however, told the Hankyoreh Shinmun that while Chinese plans to build a nuclear carrier are as of yet unknown, one could expect that China would ultimately want to possess a nuclear-powered carrier.

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  • http://populargusts.blogspot.com/ bulgasari

    The conventional carrier will be a modified version of the Soviet-built Varyag

    I hope they don’t mean this Varyag.

  • mins0306

    No bulgasari, as much as a lot of us would want it to be the 1904 Varyag, the Varyag in the post is very similar to the carrier in the drawing.

    Chinese supposed plan for a carrier similar to the Varyag was well know but their supposed plans for a 93,000 ton nuclear powered one is a new one.

    If the plans are true and they become reality, the next question is how will the other countries of East Asia react?.

    The Japanese are planning to build helicopter carrying ”destroyers” that looks like a small carrier, but considering Japan’s sensitivity in terms of military matters, I don’t see them building a full sized carrier. Instead they will probably depend on the carrier task force of the US Seventh Fleet.

    The ROK will definetely build a carrier or two. It’s been the navy’s dream to own and operate carriers, and the ROKN has expressed its preference for 40,000 to 50,000 ton carriers. So, look for them to design and build them in the near future.

    But the best way to scare away any carrier task force is to put submarines in the area. During the Falklands War, the presence of UK subs and the sinking of the Belgrano was enough to scare away the Argentine carrier 25 de Mayo and keep it in port.

    So if I was a JMSDF or ROKN admiral, I would invest more time and money into beefing up the submarine force.

  • Netizen Kim

    Maybe the Chinese are planning a future surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

  • Sine qua non

    Maybe the Chinese are planning a future surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

    More likely the Pusan harbor, before any other attacks.

  • austin

    Australia used to have a carrier, but then sold it to China for scrap metal. They also wanted to all the operating manuals, but they weren’t included. Apparently instead of scraping the carrier, they studied it meticiously. Australia never replaced it’s carrier as they realised, these days with modern missiles carriers are very vulnerable, and need a huge protective shield of other ships around them. Unless the Chinese also build that protective shield, the carriers are useless. All your military eggs in one basket. All it takes is 1 missile. The Australians invested in subs instead.
    Good do see the Chinese wasting precious resources on something as wasteful as military spending.

  • Jing

    A lot of this is simply speculation. The Varyag may possibly be in operation by 2010. 2 Su-33 naval fighters were purchased from Russia recently with an option for another 46. However, for another Varyag sized carrier to be launched by 2010 is likely not possible, unless the PLAN has already begun work right now which no one is aware of. The J-10 likely will not see service on any Chinese carrier because it is not a navalized fighter. The J-10 also entered service in 2003, but was only announced officially in December 2006 after the formation of 3 regiments. There may be a twin engine modified J-10 naval variant, but that is as of now just speculation. The Nimitz sized super carrier for 2020 is too far into the future and also even less qualifiable speculation as well.

  • Paul H.

    “Maybe the Chinese are planning a future surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.”

    Not to worry Citizen Kim! In the event of a Chinese attack on the good old USA, the citizens of ROK will clamor to battle at our side, eager to repay us for the many years of alliance in which we have pledged to do likewise for them.

  • adeptitus

    The article is complete BS. There is no such thing as a new 48,000-64,000 ton carrier under construction or to be built by 2010. Every major military shipyard in China is carefully monitored by at least half a dozen foreign intelligence agencies from Taiwan to Tokyo to Washington. The only possible carrier that might be fitted for training operations is the Varyag, which doesn’t even have engines at this time.

    The Chinese navy has NEVER operated aircraft carriers before, and getting a pair of Su-33′s on the Varyag will be a learning experience for them. It’d take many years for them to achieve operational status. Also, the Varyag doesn’t have steam catapults, which limits the weight of araments on the aircraft. At best the Su-33′s will carry AAM’s and light AShM’s and is not suitable for USN style strike missions. They’re more for fleet air-defense/CAP. Also, there is no such thing as PLANAF version of the J-10.

    As for Dr. Wen Ho Lee, yes Chinese intelligence prolly likes to target other ethnic Chinese, but I’m inclined to believe Dr. Lee was innocent of spying charges. Why? Because Judge Parker apologized to him. OJ Simpson got off but you didn’t see Judge Eto offering him an apology?

  • dogbertt

    As usual, by a wild and inflammatory digression by the individual who posted the third comment in this thread.

  • Sonagi

    wjk started it with post #3. Where’s the sheriff when you need him?

  • http://gopkorea.blogs.com/flyingyangban/ Andy Jackson

    Austin (#6)

    Good do see the Chinese wasting precious resources on something as wasteful as military spending.

    You have clearly never played Civilization. Building great cities and a mighty economy is good but, if you don’t have strong garrisons, the Aztecs will invade.

  • http://usinkorea.org/blog1 usinkorea

    I don’t think we should look at China’s plans for aircraft carriers in relation to how they stack up against the US or other top-tier industrial/economic power.

    The question(s) China could be asking itself in the post-Cold War world is — what will it take for the nations with powerful militaries to take us on? How far can we push things here or there without interference through armed force by a major power?

    Taiwan will be out of the question carrier or no carrier……but if China wants to send a carrier off the coast of Vietnam or Thailand or maybe even India if China builds up the rest of its military —- if China wants to try to exert pressure in part to include a carrier group —

    —-with nations like the United States want to get involved? especially if American and other money people are still drooling over investment opportunities in China or selling to the mammoth Chinese consumer market?

    If China can avoid pulling in the bigger fish, a carrier group might be good at putting pressure on the ones smaller than herself…???…

    As for SK — why the hell would SK want to build a carrier other than export?

    Landing craft, a massive fleet of bombers, fighters, and other aircraft, and/or a huge stockpile of missiles capable of hitting Japan/NK/China —- OK.

    But a carrier?

    What the heck could they be thinking a carrier would do for them —– or more importantly —- what they would be willing to do with a carrier?

    The Sunshine policy is not going to be reversed completely no matter who wins in Dec. SK is not going to run to rebuild the confrontational period prior to 1998 or go back to the 1970s. And a lot better weapons could be put in the field to pressure NK anyway…

    Aiming an aircraft carrier at Japan might be something that sounds good to Koreans, but the military and government would know that would be stupid. The same goes for China too.

    Who can picture SK trying to project “soft” or “hard” power? Against Japan? China?….who then? Indonesia? Fiji???

    But, if for export, who is going to buy them? Tanks and fighter planes make sense – both for defense and sale. A carrier????

  • Netizen Kim

    As for SK — why the hell would SK want to build a carrier other than export?

    I dunno. But it’ll sure be a lot sexier than the usual container ships.

  • mins0306

    usinkorea, when I was serving in the ROKN in the mid 90s I was ordered by a ROKN senior officer attached to the JCS to type up a report detailing ROKN’s shipbuilding plans. Among the item included were plans to build a carrier.

    The ROKN believes that the next step in the ongoing naval buildup is the acquisition of a carrier and associated naval wing. They already have or are in the process of acquiring ships that can escort the proposed carrier [ie KDX-2 and 3 class destroyers]

    As a matter of fact, the name of the first ship of the KDX-2 destroyer, Adm Yi Sun Shin, was reserved for the Korean aircraft carrier until the Navy decided that acquisiton of a carrier was farther off than they thought.

    Now why would the ROK procure a carrier? Power projection is one reason, but the most likely reason may be deterrence. The ROKN’s line of thinking is if it has a carrier than China and Japan might think twice before sendig ships to challenge Korean sovereignty of its seas or whatever is precious to the ROK.

    Although IMO the more cost effective deterrence is submarines, supersonic long range anti-ship missiles, and maritime recon HALE UAVs.

  • http://usinkorea.org/blog1 usinkorea

    Although IMO the more cost effective deterrence is submarines, supersonic long range anti-ship missiles, and maritime recon HALE UAVs.

    That seems like the definative point to me – which it seems to me any novice would see. I can picture some idiot politican getting it into his head that an aircraft carrier would be “cool” and show the ROK navy had “projection power”…but it seems like such a collase waist of money and national energy — kind of like China’s plans to land a man on the moon…

    If SK wants to deter NK, China, and Japan, I would say beefing up the navy is a great idea, but there are a lot of other ships that actually makes sense — and which would be much easier to export – than a useless carrier….

    But, one good thing about both SK’s and China’s aircraft carrier plans…….it will add some great targets on the PC and Xbox war games…..

  • http://usinkorea.org/blog1 usinkorea

    P.S……..I should have noted….there is also a fundamental difference between “plans” and actually doing something….

    It is normal and good for governments the size of the US, China, and SK to have all kinds of “plans” under some level of consideration. So, the ROK navy thinking about what a carrier could do for them is fine…..or China…….it is when plans move toward sucking him tons of serious money to move them along that better heads should hopefully prevail….

    And if leaks about the ROK’s carrier plans leads Pyongyang to divert money from nuke warhead development to fund anti-ship missile imports, even the plans might have some good results..

  • http://rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    As for SK — why the hell would SK want to build a carrier other than export?

    A number of mid-ranked powers—Spain, Italy, Australia, Brazil and Thailand—possess or are in the process of acquiring carriers or carrier-like ships. Having a portable airbase never hurts—it would give Korea power-projection capabilities it currently lacks. Korea—at least at the rhetorical level—wants to play a bigger role in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions worldwide, and having at least a VTOL-capable amphibious warfare ship could be a very useful tool in this regard.

  • http://www.sperwerslog.com Sperwer

    at least at the rhetorical level

    !!!

    And it’s about time the other players stopped giving them any credit for precatory piety.

  • mins0306

    Robert Koehler said:

    having at least a VTOL-capable amphibious warfare ship could be a very useful tool in this regard.

    There are unconfirmed rumors that in 1997, the UK offered the Harrier carrier HMS Invincible for sale to the ROK. The ROKN, according to the rumor, evaluated the HMS Invincible and concluded that a larger CTOL carrier was more suited to its requirements.

  • wjk

    does the ROK use any Harriers?

    Was the disadvantage of this plane top speed vs other jet fighters?

    Thanks.

  • sumo294

    A modern military must include a carrier group for the exact reason that it must learn to defend and operate against such a group. China’s sub fleet will gain valuable experience in simulations against such a fleet. The fact that only two are being built points to realistic and practical military planning. The little one will provide insights into the changes they will need on the big one. The carrier will also force upgrades to the rest of military. How do you protect your crown jewel? Are these jets really optimal for a carrier? Can these helicopters really scout out the area? Can our destroyers sniff out enemy subs? How long to scramble our jets? On and on . . .

  • http://mingi.typepad.com Mingi

    Here’s a little something about the ROKN, JMSDF and their carrier aspirations:

    http://maritimeasia.blogspot.com/2007/01/experts-say-disputed-islands-create.html

  • adeptitus

    I highly recommend reading this “just the facts” publication titled “China’s Navy, 2007″, by USN Office of Naval Intelligence:

    http://www.militarytimes.com/static/projects/pages/20070313dnplanavy.pdf

    For info on PLAN ships (and planes and tanks), visit this site:
    http://www.sinodefence.com/

    For info on PLAN carrier program, read this site by Jeff Head, author of “Dragon’s Fury” series:

    http://www.jeffhead.com/redseadragon/varyagtransform.htm

    ————-

    The PLAN is currently in a transitional stage where most major surface warships are actually testbeds and trial platforms. The only major surface warship that obtained certification for serial production recently is the general-purpose Type 054A FFG, of which 6 is ordered (more is likely) to replace old Type 053 Jianghu’s that are being retired and transferred to the Chinese Coast Guard service.

    All other frigates and destroyer classes of recent (year 2000s) construction have been test beds built in pairs for operational evaluation (no mass/serial production).

  • Netizen Kim

    That Jeff Head seems like he’s trying to be the Tom Clancy of China vs US.

  • Netizen Kim

    He’s got a e-novel for download on his site. Might be an interesting read.

  • Paul H.

    #20 wjk:

    1) “does the ROK use any Harriers?”

    Not according to this wikipedia article:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrier_Jump_Jet

    Article has a world map showing only six Harrier-variant end-user countries: USA, UK, Spain, Italy, Thailand, India.

    2) “Was the disadvantage of this plane top speed vs other jet fighters?”

    That’s one disadvantage; in order to obtain the vertical/short takeoff ability, many sacrifices in other areas of engineering performance had to be made.

    The speed disadvantage can be overcome with well-trained pilots and good tactics, as the UK Harrier pilots demonstrated in the Falklands war. But to get well-trained pilots, they have to have the cockpit hours; I think the most serious disadvantage for a small country like ROK would be the very high cost of maintenance per flight hour for this aircraft, vs that of more conventional jet fighters.

    For some countries the perceived tactical advantage of having this capability is worth the cost, but I don’t see what particular defense need the ROK has that necessitates the many problems involved in long-term operational maintenance of a VSTOL fighter aircraft.

    The Royal Thai navy evidently bought only two [(?), if I'm reading the globalsecurity.org link correctly] to operate off their recently-purchased Spanish-manufacture aircraft carrier.

    Evidently the Thais are having a significant problem keeping them operational, according to the link. I think there’s no point in spending scarce defense resources on expensive military purchases, if you’re not willing to make the long-term resource commitment to keep them operational. Otherwise, they just become museum pieces.

  • Paul H.

    Forgot to include the globalsecurity.org link, ref: Royal Thai Navy: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/thailand/navy-intro.htm

    Scroll down a ways to read about their aircraft carrier and the two (? — queation mark because this seems an awfully small purchase) Harrier jump jets they acquired for it.

  • wjk

    thank you, Paul H.

  • adeptitus

    Hi Paul,

    The global security link reports that the Royal Thai Navy obtained 7 AV-8S and 2 TAV-8S Harriers. I checked http://www.harrier.org.uk and it seems these are ex-Spanish (used) aircraft.

    The Sea Harriers had been retired from RN service in March 2006, and manufacture of many parts, such as the RR Pegasus engine, had already discontinued in 2005.

    Right now the only modern STOVL combat jet is the F-35B. If the Korean Navy wants an aircraft carrier, they should be looking at the F-35B and not obsolete Harriers.

    Moving forward, I think the future is prolly unmanned combat UAV’s. Instead of large, expensive carriers with manned aircraft, ships like the Dokdo class LPH can easily operate smaller combat UAV’s. Just my $0.02.

  • Paul H.

    Thanks for the correction adept. I didn’t try to study up on the different prefixes for the various Harrier model variants, they appear to be covered in the wikipedia article cited above.

    Adept is right, the Harrier is 20-30 year old tech, I think the F-35 uses a fundamentally different vertical lift system (if I remember the TV show I saw about it correctly).

    Not sure why the ROK wants a small-carrier naval capability in any case, though the Marmot tracks the issue with interest. The weakness of UAV’s is the satellite uplink required for the ground controller; this is why you see the Chinese energetically developing anti-satellite systems.

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  • lucas yarnell

    Not too worry,that ship is going be nothing but an ancor that was engineered with all of the worlds scrap-metal.China might not even aquire the resourses to finish the pointless project.

  • http://santoshkotla.wordpress.com santosh kotla

    Well the PLAN needs to have aircraft carriers in their inventory,they have a huge navy but no carrier ship.
    induction of a carrier will put a lot of pressure on ROK, to some extent US and to a large extent india.

  • CUNxTime

    While I agree that there are many reasons for the US and China to remain on good terms, there remains the Chinese problem of ‘living space’ and their desire to attain control over Taiwan. Although, it is questionable whether or not the US would fight China over Taiwan, there stands a good chance of China rolling the dice to find out.

    I believe the build up to war would include China perfecting its Anti-Satellite Technology and increasing its naval power. I don’t think China would need to risk so much resources on a risky endeavor such as ‘super carriers’. For the no where near same cost it could close off the strait to US naval power with mines and anti-ship missiles and devour Taiwan at its leisure.

  • visionary

    The problem with this is China is just starting. They have a long vision like next 100 – 500 years. They will continuely build aircraft carriers until they dominate the world; not just asian continent. For 5000 years, united China had no enemy. Unless we make them implode, They will plug along, one at a time for centuries to come. Japan, Korea, Russia, USA have no patience or will or money to compete with PLAN for the next 1000 years. Soon, we wil all be slaves for Chinks, delivery our virgins for their emperor like we did thousands years ago.. Deja vu? someone wise said history repeats itself.. how true!