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Annual Reports

US Defense Departmentís Annual Reports to Congress

2010 - Military Power of the People's Republic of China

China has an aircraft carrier research and design program, which includes continued renovations to the former Soviet Kuznetsov-class Hull-2, the ex-VARYAG. Beginning in early 2006 with the release of China's 11th Five Year Plan (2006-2010), PRC-owned media reported high-level government and military official statements on China's intent to build aircraft carriers. In April 2009 PRC Navy Commander Admiral Wu Shengli stated that 'China will develop its fleet of aircraft carriers in a harmonious manner. We will prudently decide the policy [we will follow with regard to building aircraft carriers]. I am willing to listen to the views of experts from the navies of other countries and to seek opinions from our country.'

While meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada in March 2009, PRC Minister of Defense General Liang Guanglie stressed that China is the only big nation that does not have aircraft carriers and stated that 'China cannot be without aircraft carriers forever.' China continues to show interest in procuring Su-33 carrier-borne fighters from Russia. Since 2006 China and Russia had been in negotiations for the sale of 50 Su-33 Flanker-D fighters at a cost of up to $2.5 billion. These negotiations reportedly stalled after Russia refused a request from China for an initial delivery of two trial aircraft. Russian defense ministry sources confirmed that the refusal was due to findings that China had produced its own copycat version of the Su-27SK fighter jet.

The PLA Navy has reportedly decided to initiate a program to train 50 navy pilots to operate fixed-wing aircraft from an aircraft carrier. In May 2009, Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim announced that the Brazilian Navy would provide training to PLA Navy officers in aircraft carrier operations.

Analysts in and out of government project that China will not have an operational, domestically produced carrier and associated ships before 2015. However, changes in China's shipbuilding capability and degree of foreign assistance to the program could alter those projections. In March 2009, PLA Navy Admiral Wu Huayang stated that 'China is capable of building aircraft carriers. We have such strength. Building aircraft carriers requires economic and technological strength. Given the level of development in our country, I think we have such strength.' The PLA Navy is considering building multiple carriers by 2020.

2009 - Status of Aircraft Carrier Developments

China has an aircraft carrier research and design program, which includes continued renovations to the former Soviet Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier VARYAG. Beginning in early 2006 with the release of China's Eleventh Five Year Plan, PRC-owned media reported high-level government and military official statements on China's intent to build aircraft carriers. In December 2008, China's Ministry of National Defense spokesman Senior Colonel Huang Xueping said 'China has vast oceans and it is the sovereign responsibility of China's armed forces to ensure the country's maritime security and uphold the sovereignty of its coastal waters as well as its maritime rights and interests,' and added that China is 'seriously considering' adding an aircraft carrier to its fleet, because 'the aircraft carrier is a symbol of a country's overall national strength, as well as the competitiveness of the country's naval force.' This was preceded by a November 2008 statement by the Director of the Ministry of National Defense, Foreign Affairs Office, Major General Qian Lihua, that 'having an aircraft carrier is the dream of any great military power,' and 'the question is not whether you have an aircraft carrier, but what you do with your aircraft carrier.'

China continues to show interest in procuring Su-33 carrier-borne fighters from Russia even though the ex-VARYAG aircraft carrier has yet to complete refurbishment at Dalian shipyard. In October 2006, a Russian press report suggested early-stage negotiations were underway for China to purchase up to 50 such aircraft at a cost of $2.5 billion. However, there has been no announcement of a contract for the aircraft.

The PLA Navy has reportedly decided to initiate a program to train 50 navy pilots to operate fixed-wing aircraft from an aircraft carrier. The program was reported to be four years long and would be followed by ship-borne training involving the ex-VARYAG. Analysts in and out of government project that China will not have an operational, domestically-produced carrier and associated ships before 2015. However, changes in China's shipbuilding capability and degree of foreign assistance to the program could alter those projections. The PLA Navy is considering building multiple carriers by 2020.

2008 - Status of Aircraft Carrier Developments

There does not appear to be evidence that China has begun construction of an aircraft carrier. However, evidence in recent years increasingly suggests China's leaders may be moving forward with an aircraft carrier program. For example, beginning in early 2006 and with the release of China's Eleventh Five Year Plan, PRC-owned media reported on statements from high-level government and military officials on China's intent to build aircraft carriers ' including a March 2007 statement from the then-minister of China's Commission on Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (COSTIND).

Continued renovations to the former Soviet Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier suggest China may choose to use the platform for training purposes. Moreover, Russian press has reported Chinese interest in acquiring Russian Su-33 carrier-borne fighters. In October 2006 a Russian press report suggested early-stage negotiations were underway for China to purchase up to 50 such aircraft at a cost of $2.5 billion. However, there has been no announcement of a contract for the aircraft.

Analysts in and out of government project that China could not have an operational, domestically-produced carrier before 2015. However, changes in China's shipbuilding capability and degree of foreign assistance to the program could alter those projections.

2007 - Status of Aircraft Carrier Developments

In October 2006, Lieutenant General Wang Zhiyuan, vice chairman of the Science and Technology Commission of the PLA's General Armament Department stated that the 'Chinese army will study how to manufacture aircraft carriers so that we can develop our own.... Aircraft carriers are indispensable if we want to protect our interests in oceans.'

China first began to discuss developing an indigenous aircraft carrier in the late 1970s. In 1985, China purchased the Australian carrier the HMAS Melbourne. Although the hull was scrapped, Chinese technicians studied the ship and built a replica of its flight deck for pilot training. China purchased two former Soviet carriers ' the Minsk in 1998 and the Kiev in 2000. Neither carrier was made operational; instead, they were used as floating military theme parks. Nevertheless, both provided design information to PLA Navy engineers.

In 1998 China purchased the ex-Varyag, a Kuznetsov-class Soviet carrier that was only 70 percent complete at the time of the Soviet Union's collapse. Recent deck refurbishment, electrical work, fresh hull paint with PLA Navy markings, and expressed interest in Russia's Su-33 fighter has re-kindled debate about a Chinese carrier fleet. The PLA's ultimate intentions for the Varyag remain unclear, but a number of possibilities exist: turning it into an operational aircraft carrier, a training or transitional platform, or a floating theme park ' its originally-stated purpose.

Regardless of Beijing's final objective for the ex-Varyag, PLA Navy study of the ship's structural design could eventually assist China in creating its own carrier program. Lieutenant General Wang stated that, 'we cannot establish a real naval force of aircraft carriers within three or five years.' Some analysts in and out of government predict that China could have an operational carrier by the end of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015); others assess the earliest it could deploy an operational aircraft carrier is 2020 or beyond.

2006 - Status of Aircraft Carrier Developments

China first began to discuss developing an indigenous aircraft carrier in the late 1970s. In 1985, China purchased the Australian carrier the HMAS Melbourne. Although the hull was scrapped, Chinese technicians studied the ship and built a replica of its fl ight deck for pilot training. With the demise of the Soviet Union, China purchased two former Soviet carriers ' the Minsk in 1998 and the Kiev in 2000. Neither carrier was made operational; instead they were used as fl oating military theme parks. Nevertheless, both provided design information to PLA Navy engineers.

Attracting the most attention is China's 1998 purchase of the ex-Varyag, a Kuznetsov-class Soviet carrier only 70 percent complete at the time of the Soviet Union's collapse. Recent deck refurbishment, electrical work, fresh hull paint with PLA Navy markings, and expressed interest in Russia's Su-33 fighter have re-kindled debate on a Chinese carrier fl eet. Though the PLA's ultimate intentions remain unclear, a number of possibilities exist for the Varyag:

  • First operational aircraft carrier. Photos showing maintenance and repair on the hull and deck of the ship suggest this could be an option.
  • A training platform. Given the difficulty and expense in overhauling the ex-Varyag, it is possible, but doubtful, the PLA would invest the resources to develop it only for training purposes.
  • A transitional platform. The Varyag could act as a stand-in until an indigenous carrier can be completed, allowing the PLA Navy to use it as a model and gain experience.
  • Theme park. The Varyag could be exploited for its design and then scrapped for parts, turned into a floating theme park, or used for its originally stated purchase purpose ' a casino.
Regardless of Beijing's final objective for the ex-Varyag, it is facilitating PLA Navy engineers' comprehensive study of the platform's structural design, which could eventually assist China in creating its own carrier program. Some analysts in and out government predict that China could have an operational carrier by the end of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), but others assess the earliest China could deploy an operational aircraft carrier is 2020 or beyond.