China Begins Building Second Carrier

Actually, it’s their first domestically built carrier. Their first is a refurbished ex-Soviet carrier.

It will be interesting to see what the differences in the configuration are between Liaoning and the second carrier.

The speculation is that it too will use the “ski ramp” method for launching aircraft. Unlike US carrier with steam catapults, the ski ramp system is much simpler, but also limits the weapons and fuel any jet can launch with. China has worked closely with Brazil (which operates a carrier with steam catapults) so they should have access to the technology. And steam catapults are hardly new. They’ve been around for 60 years. Steam catapults may not be the easiest technology to master, but it is a rather straightforward engineering challenge.

We in the US think of our aircraft carriers almost exclusively in terms of power projection. From Korea, through Vietnam, Desert Storm and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the role of the carrier has been to sit off the enemy coast and send attacks ashore.

But China’s stated strategy is one of Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD). That is, they are structuring their forces and doctrine to deny us the ability to conduct operations in certain areas, or make them prohibitively expensive in lives and political support.

If the follow on carriers in Chinese service do use a ski ramp, that would effectively limit their fighters to a loadout of a modest number of air-to-air missiles, and a decent internal fuel load. So if Chinese carriers cannot reasonably be expected to perform War At Sea Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) attacks on our carrier groups, what is their possible doctrine?

Here’s my theory, based solely on PIOMA:

A Chinese carrier battle group of one or two carriers and escorts is intended to provide local air superiority over itself, and execute limited challenges to air superiority over our carrier forces.

China wouldn’t even have to secure air superiority over our carrier group, but instead, merely make credible challenges from time to time, while avoiding being destroyed.

It doesn’t take a lot of credible threat to one of our carriers before a large portion of the sorties generated have to be devoted solely to Combat Air Patrols (CAP) over the carrier for self protection. Indeed, the political consequences of losing a carrier, or even having one badly damaged, would tend to make force protection the first imperative for any US Navy operation. To say our current Navy is rather risk averse is to put it mildly.

And so, with a majority of the sorties of this notional carrier task force devoted to protecting itself, it has essentially become a self-licking ice cream cone. The carrier exists to provide air cover to the fleet, which the fleet is there to support carrier operations. See what I mean?

What do you think?

14 thoughts on “China Begins Building Second Carrier”

  1. The US CVW is a self-licking ice cream cone until the Chinese carrier is sunk, which will become 7th Fleet’s #1 priority once they threaten a CVN. I have no idea how many Virginias it would take to sink a Chinese flattop, but I don’t think it’s going to be too many.

    I don’t think the Chinese have a plan to do anything with their carriers except point to them and say “see, we have carriers, we’re a powerful modern navy.”

    1. If CincPac has any sense, if we see war on the very near horizon with China, he’ll have an SSN shadowing their bird farm.

      We are talking about Obama appointees however.

  2. I think on Day One of a potential conflict in the Pacific, China’s carriers and their escorts will provide literally hours and hours of entertainment for our SSNs. It will be one of the most realistic training exercises our submariners have ever experienced, although probably not the most technically challenging.

    From Day Two onward, China’s carriers and the rest of their surface fleet will serve as a very nice array of artificial reefs scattered throughout the East and South China Sea areas. The fish will love them.

    1. You sure about that? China likely lacks the ability to hunt down our SSNs, but they could probably find a nice shallow water area to deny the use of a thermocline, and establish a bastion guarded by SSKs and with active sonar pinging away. Sanitize a nice area, and SSNs would have a hard time penetrating the screen.

    2. No, I’m not sure of anything; my background was in the Infantry, and even that was a long time ago. But I have confidence in our Navy, and I know that we have a hell of a lot more blue-water operational experience than the Chinese, and that’s not going to change anytime, oh, in the next century or so. Particularly in the areas of carrier ops, submarine warfare and ASW, the Chinese have a lot of catching up to do. My $.02 worth, YMMV.

      Anyway, if the Chinese hold their carriers and other surface fleet back in the littoral areas so that their subs can protect them… well, that kind of defeats the purpose of having a blue-water navy in the first place, doesn’t it?

      1. A blue water navy implies they want to do power projection the way we do. Again, they have stated their doctrine to be to deny us the ability to project power into their back yard. They don’t intend to sail off the coast of California. They intend to keep us from sailing off the coast of China.

    3. My take on this is they plan for a sea denial / show the flag force in the future. A force of 3-4 CVs would be much more robust. They have a naval strategy based on control of the island arcs from China. Having flattops adds to the area with air cover. Their current power projection is based on land-based aviation and a large number of ballistic missiles.

      Later, they can build up to a mobile force used for gunboat diplomacy in Africa, and one to extend the areas we have to cover with our own forces. Right now the Chinese supply lines are on sea-lanes through waters we can easily interdict. That’s why so much Chinese effort is going into raillines west into Asia and south to Burma and Singapore. Add to that Chinese oil and gas pipelines are building away from the littorals.

      XBradTC, a bastion is too immobile for a carrier force. A large area must be cleared to hide in. Today’s OTH radar, EMF localization and satellites can find the carriers. It also supposes that our satellites are wiped out in the first move of the conflict. Maybe that’s why the US is trying to get non-nuclear ballistic missiles online, and the X-37B.

      Using your CVs is pretty expensive bait to draw the SSGNs and CVNs in. Active pinging is a clear beacon to incoming missiles. No need to localize, just launch down a line of bearing. A good tactic is to peel away the escorts first, and a bastion screen is a great target.

      We should always remember that the Chinese have their own severe problems with their Navy. Their perception of high capacity can be unwarranted with performance in real time.

      This would be a good scenario for the old 7th Fleet game.

  3. xbradtc: “You sure about that? China likely lacks the ability to hunt down our SSNs, but they could probably find a nice shallow water area to deny the use of a thermocline, and establish a bastion guarded by SSKs and with active sonar pinging away. Sanitize a nice area, and SSNs would have a hard time penetrating the screen.”

    But that negates the utility of having a carrier force, no?

    Just my armchair admiral guess, more training, more development, a check to India, Vietnam, PI, and to a lesser extent Japan. Toss in ability to do small stuff in Africa. But learn, then build more and build bigger. Just going from crawling (Liaoning) to cruising the furniture and baby steps (two in design/initial production), to bigger stuff down the road.

    All waiting while we decline.

    1. Surfcaster, I have to agree.

      No adversary of the US has to lift a finger. The US is in deep trouble from our own government leaders. Policies like destroying our currency, setting the nation up for hyperinflation, capping energy production, turning the workforce into predominately part-time workers and suppressing manufacturing are serious impediments to deterrence. Doing away with US nuclear weapons would finish the US’s ability to be the power underpinning global peace between the major powers.

      Add to that our own goals from US military leadership like capping F-22 strength, budgeting for Littoral Combat Ships, not frigates, and having a hull numbers crunch in SSN strength starting in 6 years.

      We are also alienating our friends and allies we would need to face off China, Iran, or Russia. For example, our new Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy just blasted a beloved Japanese cultural practice — eating dolphin meat. Because she cares. Not very diplomatic.

      We cannot face China without South Korea, Japan and Australia on our side, or at least supportive. Adding Taiwan and the Philippines to our alliance would improve our strategic situation.

      We can just pray that our TF commanders, ship and squadron COs and their personnel can do enough to deter the Chinese.

  4. Well, I was going to comment but looks like others have already formulated most of my thoughts. A Chinese carrier fleet in being exerts an influence on all neighbors, regardless of US actions (and particularly with US inaction) in the region. I don’t think that a one-or-two carrier fleet is much concern as it would not venture out very far during actual combat, and I suspect that US air wings massively outnumber and outrange it which would tend to hem them up. I concur that SSNs would probably smoke them early on, as well. But, as a test bed for the building up of a future larger force, with freedom to validate naval aviation and project Chinese regional influence until any war were to start, definitely something to be concerned about.

  5. The PLAN is modifying the J-15 to be a tanker. That way the J-15 fighters can be war loaded and after launching with a light fuel load they refuel in the air maintaining a decent range. Like the USN does with the Hornet and buddy stores.
    Is the Chinese navy still the PLAN or did they do a name change to something else?

    1. That’s one way of doing it, but they have a lot fewer aircraft and fewer sorties per day. Buddy tanking with 48 strike fighters available is one thing. With only 12-25, that cuts your sorties back a long ways. For establishing a CAP over homeplate, you’re probably better off just cycling rather than buddy tanking.

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