The Complex

The Pentagon yawns at China's carrier ops

While we here at Killer Apps were enjoying the last day of our Thanksgiving holiday, the Chinese navy was busy conducting its first ever takeoffs and landings from its brand new aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, with brand-new J-15 fighter jets.

Some observers have hailed this as the start of a new era in naval history while others aren't so impressed. So far, the U.S. Defense Department seems unconcerned.

"We are aware of media reports that the Chinese successfully landed an aircraft on the deck of a carrier," said Pentagon press secretary George Little during a briefing with reporters this morning. "This would come as no surprise. We've been monitoring Chinese military developments for some time.

He then went into the Pentagon's common refrain on all things related to the Chinese military, which essentially amounts to: We'd really like to develop a good working relationship with these guys, but we'd also love to know why Beijing is buying all sorts of weaponry that appears to be designed to keep the U.S. at bay.

"As you know, the overall goal in our relationship with China is to develop a closer military relationship that is more transparent and one that leads to the ability on both sides to promote greater peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region," said Little.

"I'm not aware that we were informed of this particular development, but they're not required to do so," added Little. "I'm not going to comment on intelligence matters to be sure, but again this does not come as a surprise." 

The Liaoning was built with the hull of an incomplete Soviet carrier that China bought from Ukraine in 1998, claiming that it would be turned into a casino or something. Instead, China completely refurbished the ship, installing new engines, modern electronics, and sensor systems, turning the old hulk into a "starter carrier."  

It's worth noting that the Chinese ripped off the design of Russia's Sukhoi Su-27 fighter which Shenyang Aircraft Corporation used to then develop the J-11 land based fighter and now the J-15. Interestingly, the Chinese engineer in charge of the J-15 program died of a heart attack just after watching yesterday's test flights aboard the ship.

The Liaoning was commissioned two months ago, and China's naval test pilots have spent years practicing landings and take-offs on landlocked mock-ups of the carrier's flight deck and later touch-and-go's aboard the actual ship. Now, they have performed the first of what will be hundreds of carrier takeoffs and landings needed to master the art of carrier ops.

Unconfirmed news reports suggest that China will launch its first domestically-made carrier by the middle of this decade -- giving the test pilots operating aboard the Liaoning time to train China's first crop of naval fighter jocks. Keep in mind that it took decades for the U.S. Navy to master the art of flying planes from pitching and rolling aircraft carriers, so you can bet it will be a while before the Chinese have a truly effective carrier force.

Chinese Internet, China Defense Blog


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