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Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning
Varyag under tow
The incomplete Varyag, the future Liaoning, under tow in Istanbul in 2001.
Career (China)
Name: Liaoning (Chinese language: 中国人民解放军海军辽宁舰)
Namesake: Liaoning Province, China
Builder: Nikolayev South
Designer: Nevskoye Planning and Design Bureau
Fit-out: Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company
Laid down: December 6, 1985
Launched: December 4, 1988
Completed: 2011
Commissioned: September 25, 2012
Status: In active service
General characteristics are for the Varyag as originally designed
Class & type: Admiral Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier
Displacement: 53 050 tons (Standard-load)[1]
59 100 tons (Full-load)[1]
61 390 tons (Max-load)
Length: 304.5 m (999 ft) o/a
270 m (890 ft) w/l
Beam: 75 m (246 ft) o/a
38 m (125 ft) w/l
Draft: 8.97 m (29.4 ft)
Propulsion: (Before stripping in Ukraine) Steam turbines, 8 boilers, 4 shafts, 200,000 hp (150 MW)
2 × 50,000 hp (37 MW) turbines
9 × 2,011 hp (1,500 kW) turbogenerators
6 × 2,011 hp (1,500 kW) diesel generators
4 × fixed pitch propellers
Speed: 32 knots (59 km/h; 37 mph) (Before engines removed in Ukraine)
Range: 3,850 nautical miles (7,130 km; 4,430 mi) at 32 knots (Before engines removed in Ukraine)
Endurance: 45 days
Complement: 1,960 crew
626 air group
40 flag staff
3,857 rooms
Armament:


After refit:
• 3 x Type 1030 CIWS
• 3 x HQ-10 (18 Cell Missile system)
• 2 x ASW 12 tube rocket launchers


As designed:
• 8 × AK-630 AA guns (6×30 mm, 6,000 round/min/mount, 24,000 rounds)
• 8 × CADS-N-1 Kashtan CIWS (each 2 × 30 mm Gatling AA plus 16 3K87 Kortik SAM)
• 12 × P-700 Granit SSM
• 18 × 8-cell 3K95 Kinzhal SAM VLS (192 vertical launch missiles; 1 missile per 3 seconds)
RBU-12000 UDAV-1 ASW rocket launchers (60 rockets)
Aircraft carried: Shenyang J-15
Changhe Z-8
Ka-31
As designed:
× 30 fixed wing aircraft[2]
× 24 helicopters

Liaoning (16), is the first aircraft carrier commissioned into the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).[3] Originally laid down as the Admiral Kuznetsov class multirole aircraft carrier Riga for the Soviet Navy, she was launched on December 4, 1988 and renamed Varyag in 1990. The stripped hulk was purchased in 1998 by the People's Republic of China and towed to Dalian Shipyard in north eastern China. After being completely rebuilt and undergoing sea trials, the ship was commissioned into the PLAN as Liaoning on September 25, 2012.[3]

Origin

Design of the carrier was undertaken by the Nevskoye Planning and Design Bureau.[4] The ship was laid down as Riga at Shipyard 444 (now Nikolayev South) in Mykolaiv, Ukraine on December 6, 1985.[5][6] Launched on December 4, 1988, the carrier was renamed Varyag (Varangian) in late 1990, after the famous Russian cruiser.

Construction had ceased by 1992, with the ship structurally complete but without electronics. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, ownership was transferred to Ukraine; the ship was laid up, unmaintained, and then stripped. By early 1998, she lacked engines, a rudder, much of her operating systems, and was put up for auction.[7]

The hulk of the carrier was purchased from Ukraine in 1998 under the pretext it would be used as a floating casino, and towed to China.[8]

She has since been refitted by the PLAN as an aircraft carrier for "scientific research, experiment and training."[9]

Soviet and post-Soviet role

While designated an aircraft carrier by the West, the design of the Admiral Kuznetsov class implied a mission different from carriers of the United States Navy, Royal Navy or French Navy. The Russian-language term used by her builders to describe the Soviet-era ships is "тяжёлый авианесущий крейсер" tyazholiy avianesushchiy kreyser (TAKR or TAVKR)—“heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser”—intended to support and defend strategic missile-carrying submarines, surface ships, and maritime missile-carrying aircraft of the Russian fleet. As such, the Soviet Union and later Russia argued that these ships are not aircraft carriers under the Montreux Convention and not subject to the tonnage limits imposed on these ships in traveling through the Bosphorus.[10][11]

Fixed-wing aircraft on the other ship of the class, Admiral Kuznetsov, are essentially constrained to air superiority operations. Were Varyag to have become operational with the Soviet, Ukrainian, or Russian Navy, it would have also carried out anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations, as well as carrying anti-ship missiles.

Sold at auction

In April 1998, Ukrainian Trade Minister Roman Shpek announced the winning bid of US$20 million from Chong Lot Travel Agency Ltd., a small company based in Hong Kong. They proposed to tow Varyag out of the Black Sea, through the Suez Canal and around southern Asia to Macau, where they would moor the ship and convert it into a floating hotel and gambling parlor.[6] It would be similar to the attractions Kiev in Tianjin and Minsk at Minsk World in Shenzhen.

Before the auction was closed, officials in Macau had warned Chong Lot that they would not be permitted to berth Varyag in the harbor. The sale was carried out anyway. Chong Lot is owned by Chin Luck (Holdings) Company of Hong Kong. Four of Chin Luck's six board members live in Yantai, China, where a major Chinese Navy shipyard is located. Chin Luck's chairman is a former career military officer with the People's Liberation Army.[6]

Towed to China

Varyag under tow in İstanbul.

In mid-2000, the Dutch International Transport Contractors tugboat Suhaili with a Filipino crew was hired to take Varyag under tow. Chong Lot could not get permission from Turkey to transit the dangerous Bosphorus strait; under the Montreux Treaty of 1936 Turkey has obligations to permit free passage, but has certain sovereignty and refusal rights. The hulk spent 16 months under commercial tow circling in the Black Sea. High-level PRC government ministers conducted negotiations in Ankara on Chong Lot's behalf, offering to allow Chinese tourists to visit cash-strapped Turkey if the travel agency's ship were allowed to pass through the straits. On November 1, 2001, Turkey finally relented from its position that the vessel posed too great of a danger to the bridges of Istanbul, and allowed the transit.[citation needed]

Varyag was escorted by twenty-seven vessels, including eleven tug boats and three pilot boats, and took six hours to transit the strait; most large ships take an hour and a half. The Russian press reported that sixteen pilots and 250 seamen were involved.[citation needed] At 11:45 a.m. on November 2, the hulk completed its passage and made for Gallipoli and Çanakkale at 5.8 knots (10.7 km/h; 6.7 mph). It passed through the Dardanelles without incident.[12]

The Varyag on July 3, 2011, in Dalian, China

On November 3, Varyag was caught in a force 9 gale and broke adrift while passing the Greek island of Skyros. Sea rescue workers tried to re-capture the hulk, which was drifting toward the island of Euboea. The seven-member crew (three Russians, three Ukrainians and one Filipino) remained on board as six tugboats tried to reestablish their tow. After many failed attempts to reattach the lines, a Greek coast guard rescue helicopter landed on Varyag and picked up four of the seven crew. One tug managed to make a line fast to the ship later in the day, but high winds severely hampered efforts by two other tugs to secure the ship. On November 6, Aries Lima (reported as both Dutch and Portuguese), a sailor from the tug Haliva Champion, died after a fall while attempting to reattach the tow lines. On November 7, the hulk was taken back under tow and progress resumed at about three knots.[citation needed]

The Suez Canal does not permit passage of "dead" ships — those without their own on-board power source — so the hulk was towed through the Strait of Gibraltar, around the Cape of Good Hope, and through the Straits of Malacca. The tugs towing the hulk maintained an average speed of 6 knots (11 km/h) over the 15,200-nautical-mile (28,200 km) journey, calling for bunkers and supplies at Piraeus, Greece; Las Palmas, Canary Islands; Maputo, Mozambique; and Singapore en route. They entered Chinese waters on February 20, 2002, and arrived March 3 at Dalian Shipyard in northeastern China. China continued to assert that Varyag would be a casino. When Macau awarded new casino licenses in February 2002, Chong Lot was not among successful bidders. The hulk was tied up at Dalian. The total cost of acquiring the hulk was over US$30 million: US$25 million to the Ukrainian government for the hull, nearly US$500,000 in transit fees, and some US$5 million for the towing.[citation needed]

Modernization and refit

In 2008, Robert Karniol, the Asia editor of Jane's Defence Weekly, said: "The Chinese haven't seen this type of carrier before and it could be very useful to them. They are trying to vacuum up as much know-how as they can".[13] Liu Huaqing, a senior admiral of the PLAN and proponent of naval modernization, has spoken of the 21st century as the "century of the sea" and called for naval modernization over several decades.[3] At the same time, there has been resistance within the PLAN towards Liu Huaqing's vision for an extensive Chinese navy, leading to constant debates between developing aircraft carriers and submarines.[3]

The Varyag was moved in early June 2005 to a dry dock at Dalian (38°56′06″N 121°36′51″E / 38.935°N 121.6141°E / 38.935; 121.6141 (Varyag)). Her hull was sandblasted and scaffolding erected around her. Her island was painted in a red marine primer that is used to treat corroded metal. On October 24, 2006, the Kommersant online daily newspaper reported that Russia planned to sell up to 50 Su-33 fighters to China through Rosoboronexport, in a $2.5 billion deal. In March 2009 Moskovskij Komsomolets reported that these negotiations had collapsed over Russian fears that China might begin producing cheaper export versions of the Su-33 with Chinese avionics and systems, undercutting Russian exports, in the same way as with the J-11B (Chinese version of the Su-27).[14]

Jane's Fighting Ships had previously stated that the ship would possibly be named Shi Lang and assigned pennant number 83. Jane's noted that both the name and pennant number were unconfirmed. Shi Lang was a Ming-Qing Dynasty admiral who defeated Koxinga's descendants' navy and conquered Taiwan in 1681.[15] Jane's Navy International noted in October 2007 that "refurbishment work and fitting out is continuing and the vessel is expected to begin initial sea trials in 2008".[16] At the end of 2008, the Asahi Shimbun reported that the carrier was "nearing completion".[17] On April 27, 2009 the carrier was reported to have been moved into another dry dock, "apparently to install engines and other heavy equipment".[18] A new radar mast was installed on the superstructure by December 15, 2009.[19]

In 2009, at the Wuhan Naval Research facilities near Huangjia Lake in the southwestern suburbs of Wuhan, the PLAN constructed a full scale logistics and training deck and island mockup.[20][21]

Sensors that have been observed are Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) and Sea Eagle radar. Weapons observed have been the Type 1030 CIWS, and the FL-3000N missile system. It has also been observed that the old anti-ship missile tubes have been plugged and will not be used, thus freeing up more internal space for hangar or storage use. Russia plans to do the same when it modernizes its sister ship Kuznetsov.[22] The Kamov Ka-31 has been confirmed as purchased and operational with the PLAN, and may form the Airborne early warning and control basis for the ship's air wing.[23]

On June 8, 2011, the Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army, Gen. Chen Bingde confirmed that Beijing was building an aircraft carrier, marking the first acknowledgement of the ship's existence from China's armed forces. He said that the refurbished Soviet carrier "is being built, but has not been completed." The ship would be used for training and as a model for a future indigenously-built ship. Qi Jianguo, assistant to the chief of the PLA's general staff said "All of the great nations in the world own aircraft carriers — they are symbols of a great power."[24] On July 27, 2011, the Chinese Defense Ministry announced it was refitting the vessel for "scientific research, experiment and training."[9]

Sea trials and handover

On 10 August 2011, the ex-Varyag began sea trials. An RSIS analyst noted that China still had a long way to go to make it operational, but was determined to do so.[25] On 15 August 2011, she docked in Dalian, completing its first four-day sea trial.[26] On 29 November 2011 the carrier left port for its second set of trials.[27][28] In December 2011 the ship was photographed by satellite while undertaking sea trials.[29] The carrier completed its eighth sea trial between 7 June and 21 June 2012 and returned to Dalian. In July 2012, the ship set out for the longest sea trials so far, 25 days, and there was speculation that this would have involved testing the launching and recovery of aircraft.[30]

According to the China Times, the carrier completed sea trials in early August 2012 and loaded Shenyang J-15 aircraft and KJ-88, YJ-83K, and YJ-91 missiles in preparation for weapons systems trials.[31] Reuters analysis suggests the role of the ship will be mostly training and evaluation ahead of the building of domestic carriers, with only a limited operational role. Flight control software, avionics, weapons and radars remain to be developed. Reuters reports PLA officers stating the carrier is far from operational with extensive further trials and exercises required.[32]

On 23 September 2012, the aircraft carrier was handed over to the People's Liberation Army Navy, and was commissioned on 25 September 2012.[3][33] Currently, there is no official confirmation on any operational aircraft on the carrier,[34] however some aircraft were identified inside the hangars according to a Chinese news report.[35] Further, a Chinese Navy pilot successfully landed his J-15 jet fighter on the carrier deck, performing an arrested landing with a tailhook.[36][37][38] At the commissioning ceremony, the carrier was officially named Liaoning.[3][39] The ship was named in honour of the Liaoning province, in which she was retrofitted.[3][40]

On 26 December 2012, the People's Daily reported that it will take 4 to 5 years for the Liaoning to reach full capacity, mainly due to training and coordination which will take significant amount of time for Chinese PLA Navy to complete as this is the first aircraft carrier in their possession. [41]

As it is a training ship, the Liaoning is not assigned to any of China's operation fleets.[42]

Aircraft handling

On 4 November 2012, it was described in an article on the PLA official newspaper PLA Daily (Chinese: 解放军报) that J-15s had performed carrier touch-and-go training.[43][44] On 25 November 2012, Chinese media announced that five J-15s had made successful arrested landings on the Liaoning.[45][46][47] The first pilot to land on the Liaoning was revealed to be Dai Mingmeng (戴明盟).[48]

In June 2013, a second round of flight tests began on board the Liaoning, with personnel from the fleet air arm of the Brazilian Navy providing carrier training support to the Chinese Navy.[49] Five Chinese pilots were certified the next month for carrier operations.[50]

In September 2013, SMN reported that the Liaoning was still unable to operate J-15s with a heavy weapons/fuel load because of the ship's limited size and lack of catapults.[51] The U.S. Department of Defense notes that the J-15 will have below normal range and armament when operating from the carrier, due to limits imposed by the ski-jump takeoff and arrested carrier landings.[52]

A Canadian government report casts doubt on Chinese claims that the Liaoning has even tested aircraft operations in anything other than perfect visibility and calm seas.[53]

See also

References

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  33. China’s Navy passes first aircraft-carrier into service
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