Russia helps China build new aircraft carrier

By ANDREI CHANG  |  Dec. 16, 2008 at 8:22 PM
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HONG KONG, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Russia, India and China will be building aircraft carriers for their navies almost simultaneously over the next five years or so, using many of the same design concepts, technologies and equipment. This is unprecedented in the history of shipbuilding.

The three countries currently are enjoying healthy political relations, smoothing the way for Russia's continued military cooperation with both China and India with regard to aircraft carrier technologies.

The news that China is about to start building its aircraft carrier is no secret in either Russia or Ukraine. Multiple authoritative sources from the Russian shipbuilding industry have confirmed in recent interviews with the author that China has candidly informed Russia of its intentions. After all, the technology and subsystems for China's aircraft carrier are largely from Russia.

As reported previously, systems such as arresting equipment for aircraft landings have been imported from Russia. A Russian shipbuilding industry source also has confirmed that China's first aircraft carrier will use the Russian ski-jump deck.

"This is a Russian invention, but it has been accepted by both India and China," said the source.

India launched its aircraft carrier construction project about one year ago. It also incorporates the Russian ski-jump deck design for aircraft takeoffs and uses steel plates imported from Russia. It will also use Russian MiG-29K shipborne fighters.

At the same time, Russia has an ambitious plan to build new aircraft carriers for its own navy. The commander in chief of the Russian navy, Adm. Vladimir Masorin, declared in 2007 that the navy would need at least three aircraft carriers before 2020 and that Russia would build nuclear-powered carriers.

The design of the new aircraft carriers is currently under way at the Russian Nevskoye Design Bureau. The designs for this project are expected to be completed by 2010 and the first carrier should be finished around 2016-2017 -- a date that coincides with China's plan to build its first aircraft carrier.

The chief designer at this facility told UPI in an interview that China had not asked for assistance in designing its aircraft carrier, however.

Russia's aircraft carrier construction program is not yet officially listed in the 2005-2015 national defense equipment development agenda. Moreover, the issue of using a nuclear-powered propulsion system is controversial within the Russian navy. It seems no final decision has been made as to what propulsion system will be fitted on the new carriers.

Despite similar timeframes and shared technologies, there are several major differences between the aircraft carrier construction plans of Russia and China.

First, the Russian navy has had 35 years of experience with aircraft carriers, including the technologies and experience of building the Ulyanovsk-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier -- even though this project was never completed, having been abandoned at the end of the Cold War. The Chinese navy has no such experience.

Second, Russia has a full toolbox of production technologies, while the People's Liberation Army navy has to search around to acquire these technologies. Third, and most important, the Russian navy fleets have practical experience with aircraft carriers, while the PLA navy has had to start from zero -- including the building of large surface warships and strategic nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.

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(Part 2: The Russian-Chinese-Indian pattern of cooperation)

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(Andrei Chang is editor in chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto.)

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