Let me start out with saying: It is not a bad piece, so I’ll let the general conclusion stand and instead elaborate.
Starting out with the carrier itself:
Russia attempted some 30-40 odd years back a carrier building programme, which came to nought and was finally given up after the cold war. In hindsight it wasn’t so much the lack of funds that killed the programme; but the sheer devilish difficulty of operating an aircraft carrier. Apart from the USA the carrier capability is – at best – marginal. Helicopter operations at sea are – if not easy – then routine with most navies above dingy ambitions. Fixed wing aircraft is a whole different ballgame. Now I don’t know if China is operating helicopter from naval vessels at all – haven’t bothered to check; but if you can’t regularly and routinely operate helicopters in squadron size forces in moderate swell it is downright insane to attempt even putting to sea with a regular aircraft carrier. The elementary command ability just isn’t there! Deck spotting, elevator operation, take off sequence, range calculation, deck- and maintenance organisation and all such dreary stuff take time, training and horrible mistakes to put right – but without which a carrier is just shambles and only a liability.
Well that can be learned? Again the Russians tried and never got it even remotely right. So: NO.
The ship itself is a “Harrier-carrier” type ship – even the rumoured complement of 30 aircraft – with a ski-jump deck that precludes any other type fixed wing aircraft from operating there. Notably there does not appear to be a slot in the deck for a catapult. The Harrier is one of those weird contraptions that only a stark raving mad British designer could come up with – and make it work! Most inventions on aircraft carriers are British and do need the simplicity of a convoluted mind to come up with.
The landing system f.i. was conceived during a pub crawl where a girl was asked to take out her mirror. Draw a line across put it against a mug, put the lipstick in front, and walk back to the table – keeping the tip of the lipstick on the line on the mirror. Approaching in a still more crouching position she came in lower and lower at a predictable angle – until her tits hit the edge of the table (which was the object of the exercise). The British are supreme at weird stuff that works – the Americans never really has gotten into that game.
Same thing with the Harrier – no one but British engineers could come up with that junk pile of old motorcycle chains and faulty plumbing – even the engine has to have counter rotating spools to keep the wobbly contraption even reasonably level. It took several demonstrations of the actual practicality of the design to wrench an order from the clenched teeth the USNavy – an ONLY because the Marines insisted, as there was no way they were going to land on a beach juggling a 6” gun (not to mention the ammo) on a timber float for miles before getting down to real fighting. To non-Americans: When a Marine insists you obey as those chums have a nasty habit of carrying guns – not that they need them to be obnoxious! – a saucepan is generally more than adequate.
Much of the design effort in US military aircraft from the 1950’ies and on to this very day has gone into designing vertical an short take off aeroplanes (wings not moving) that actually work. If the F-35C will achieve the ambition of a lifetime for the Americans of producing a workable STOVL aircraft remains to be seen – but I doubt it.
Persistence in naval aircraft design – trying and correcting every error – like the F-4 Phantom II (that looked, sounded, smelled and smoked terribly) is not liable to be within the reach of Chinese technology – ever.
So much for the ship! It will most probably only leave port with training wheels – and slowly.
Tactically the concept makes even less sense!
First of all an aircraft carrier NEVER approaches a potentially hostile shore closer than 50 nautical miles, because it has to be out of Harpoon type anti-shipping missiles range. These are cheap and can be mounted on a lorry – and hidden in any shed or barn.
This is probably what all the fuss is about with the dispute over these Japanese islands is all about! If these islands remain Japanese there is no chance in hell that a Chinese aircraft carrier – or any other largish vessel – can proceed into the Pacific proper without instant and permanent contact with the bottom – let alone sail undetected. This has nothing whatsoever to do with oil, cigars or ladies underwear or any other fanciful explanation press pundits can come up with. The Chinese Navy looking for a solution is a fat lady wearing sexy underwear – you can’t even FIND it.
As to use closer to home: Well the Formosa Strait is about 50 nautical miles – I refer to above. That this limit is serious and not to be bypassed is evident from the protracted and very painful development of the V-22 Osprey that started in 1981 as a result of the failure to rescue the hostages in Iran – a quarter of a century before it was finally ordered into production. Again the Marines insisted that they could not land on even a lightly held enemy shore, as the admirals would never EVER risk a carrier within practical helicopter range.
Please don’t make me start with the claimed Chinese Naval version of the Flanker – the mere thought of operating that monstrosity on a vessel that size without means of recovery……
Having waved our magic wand – freeing the cobwebs after the exercise – and with our tinfoil hat debonair askew we assume the tub actually passing into the Pacific without being reduced to glowing shards of metal, we might continue our reservations.
The ship does have a hefty smokestack, so it will not be nuclear powered (there is a reason sailors are religious). This means that it will have to be replenished at sea. Ask any commercial shipping line as to the amount of fuel steaming a large vessel takes – especially to create a 20 knot wind-over-deck (and we are talking dead calm sea) – not to mention the amounts of fuel aircrafts jet engines consume (but oh, it is never going to operate aircraft!). Even supposing oilers can be found and replenishment at sea can be performed (always tricky) the question remains as to how to protect the oilers. ANY navy – not least the Australian – or even the New Zeeland – would be able to sink the oilers as they are difficult to hide.
Once at sea it will never be able to approach an enemy shore closer than 300 nautical miles as that is the range of an F-16 C (the standard western land based fighter – albeit a bit long in tooth) with bombs on a typical mission. As any micro power has SMART weapons the ship cannot be defended from the carrier with a Harrier force. The reason the British could do so was because they operated their Harrier-carriers so far east of the Falklands that the crew joked that the appropriate campaign medal would be the Star of India. That and because the object defended was already at the extreme range of the Argentinian Mirages, that incidentally proved the point of undefended ships within range of anti-shipping missiles (in this case aircraft mounted Exocet) as both armed and unarmed British vessels were lost.
To quote a former First Sea Lords exasperation in view of the latest defence cuts: “The Royal Navy isn’t the bloody Danish or Belgian navy!” No, m’lud: But considering the opposition no more is needed! It is a fair bet that the “bloody Danish navy” could eliminate the Chinese at will – not to mention reasonably capable navies like the Indian.
The whole Chinese naval program is a stunning example of breathtaking idiocy and ineptitude – even in hindsight.
To get a current perspective: The question is why anybody besides the USA should ever WANT an aircraft carrier is beyond ken. The USA can only operate their carriers because they already control the sea – a control that cannot be challenged, as we have seen. With the increased range of the next generation of fighters – the F-35A with just under the double range (on internal fuel) of an F-16C and with modern munitions will leave no nation within the capacity of the Chinese “carrier”.
The military incompetence of China is only highlighted by this example:
The old invasion of Vietnam illustrates that a midget can make the Chinese not only withdraw but flee in panic. The war with India (not one of the most shining moments in Indian military history) showed a consistently flawed staff – or one thoroughly gagged. Come on! Using large formations above 10.000´ where patrols operate with extreme difficulty.
The whole idea of defending China is absurd! Why should anybody want to invade CHINA that is only problems that even Chinese don’t want! The aggressive and hateful stance of China shows a petulant and childish threat of committing suicide the most painful way possible in order to soil the neighbours Sunday suit with their blood. This is nothing new, as Chinese foreign policy is a record of shrill and vicious screaming with as little substance as their understanding of finance.
The only possible mission of the Chinese armed forces is large scale and ruthless slaughter of their own population.