Wednesday, December 28, 2011

China’s New/Used Aircraft Carrier Ain’t Scary

Via (Danger Room) -

When China launched the maiden voyage of its first aircraft carrier in August, it had a lot of eyes on it. Some were from way, way up in the heavens — specifically, DigitalGlobe’s satellites. They provide the clearest pictures yet of China’s much-heralded floating toy, and make it seem less than meets the eye.

Truth be told, the Shi Lang isn’t actually new-new. It’s more like the aircraft carrier equivalent of buying a used car. China purchased the Varyag, a Kuznetsov-class carrier from Ukraine, refurbished it, and set it to sea as Shi Lang, intending to show the world it was a first-class naval power.

And there’s something to that: Very few countries have a full-sized aircraft carrier at all. (The U.S. Navy has 10.) But the Shi Lang isn’t exactly state of the art. It carries mediocre aircraft and accompanies unimpressive ships. And DigitalGlobe’s satellites find that Shi Lang also “appears to lack the P-700 Granit surface-to-surface missiles that were part of the original Kuznetzov designs,” as Stratfor analyst Rodger Baker puts it.

Translation: sure, the Shi Lang is merely supposed to be a training ship, but it’s conspicuous that the first Chinese aircraft carrier can’t defend itself from seaborne threats.

The Shi Lang is probably best thought of as a starter aircraft carrier. Who knows what weaponry its next carrier — the one it’s building, not purchasing — will possess. And it can’t just be one new carrier, Baker says: “It will be years before China has the three hulls needed for minimum ability to keep one on station at all times.”

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