Sunday, June 5, 2011

As China Prepares to Launch Its First Aircraft Carrier, Should we be Worried?

We should take notice, but more with an eye toward the future as apposed to fear we are being displaced from the water power-sphere at present. China's intentions are clear, but they have a long way to go to even begin to threaten our dominance on the open water.

"Her new guns are installed. Her light-gray paint job has dried. Her airplanes are flying and her engines are turning. Thirteen years after she was purchased from Ukraine half-complete and lacking engines, the Chinese navy’s very first aircraft carrier is ready to set sail from Dalian shipyard in northeast China. The former Soviet carrier Varyag, renamed Shi Lang in Chinese service, could begin sea trials this summer.

Just how worried should the world be?

The answer depends on who you ask. To China’s closest neighbors, the prospect of a carrier speeding heavily-armed Chinese jet fighters across the world’s oceans is an alarming one. But the U.S. Navy, the world’s leading carrier power and arguably the Chinese navy’s biggest rival, seems oddly unaffected.

There are good reasons for the Pentagon’s calm. For starters, Shi Lang, pictured above, could be strictly a training carrier, meant to pave the way for bigger, more capable carriers years or decades in the future.

But even if she is meant for combat, there’s probably little reason to fear Shi Lang. A close study of the 990-foot-long vessel — plus the warships and airplanes she’ll sail with — reveals a modestly-sized carrier lacking many of the elements that make U.S. flattops so powerful.

When Shi Lang finally gets underway in coming months, she will boost the ability of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to patrol airspace over contested sea zones, provided they’re not too far from the Chinese mainland. And more to the point, she’ll look good doing it. “I think the change in perception by the region will be significant,” Adm. Robert Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific forces, told the Senate in April.

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