PRC Acquires ex-Soviet Aircraft Carrier

(c) K.B. Sherman, 2002

The Peoples Republic of China is continuing to muscle-up its navy with the acquisition of another ex-Soviet aircraft carrier.

Since early 2000, the PRC has been working to get the ex-Soviet Varyag aircraft carrier through Turkish waters. The Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier -- uncompleted at the time of the Soviet Union's collapse -- had bounced from the Ukraine to the Chin Luck Holdings Company of Hong Kong (rumored to be a front for the Peoples Liberation Army) to, finally, the PRC itself. The two Kuznetsov-class carriers (Varyag and Kuznetsov) displace 67,500 tons and measure just under 1,000 feet. Only the Kuznetsov was completed and actually joined the Russian fleet. They are the first ex-Soviet carriers with conventional take-off and landing aircraft, including the Su-27/33K, MiG-29K, and converted Su-25. The Kuznetsov carries a dozen launchers for SS-N-19 antiship missiles, SA-N-9 and CADS-N-1 air defense complexes, a pair of RBU-12000 ASW mortars, and the Sky Watch 3D radar. The ship's radars include a D/E band air and surface target acquisition radar, an F-band surface search radar, G/H band flight control radar, I-band navigation radar, and four K-band fire control radars for the Kashstan Air Defence Gun/Missile System (supplied by the Instrument Design Bureau and Tulamashzavod JSC in Tula), which provides defense against precision weapons including anti-ship and anti-radar missiles, aircraft and small sea targets. Eight systems are fitted, combining missile launcher, 30mm twin gun and radar/optronic director. The Admiral Kuznetsov was launched in 1985; the intervening political turmoil delayed her formal commissioning until 1991, and she did not become fully operational until 1995.

China's ten year effort to get the Varyag suggests its commitment to building a serious aircraft carrier capability, and such ships are almost certain to be nuclear-powered. It took over a year just to get the Varyag through the Bosporous Straits of Turkey. The Turkish Government reportedly at first strenuously resisted requests to have the Varyag transit the Turkish Straits of Bosporous, but later backed-off opposition in return for Chinese technical assistance. Saved from a Ukranian scrap yard, the Varyag may now be reverse-engineered by a Chinese Navy with no experience in building aircraft carriers. This reportedly was done through the earlier acquisition of a smaller Minsk-class carrier which was studied, stripped, and then sold for scrap. The PRC reportedly plans to build three new carriers at its Shanghai Jiagnan Shipbuilding Company, with first scheduled for completion in 2006, a second in 2008, and a third in 2011.

The Varyag makes its undignified way, under tow, through the Straits of Istanbul.