Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
April 24, 2016
How does China’s first aircraft carrier stack up?
The entry of China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, into service with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) attracted considerable attention from both the Chinese press and military observers around the world. For some, theLiaoning was a symbol of China’s global power; for others, it represented a significant first step toward a more muscular and assertive Chinese navy.
Originally built as a “heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser” for the Soviet Navy, the ship was laid down as the Riga and renamed the Varyag in 1990. A Chinese travel agency purchased the unfinished hull in 1998, and three years later the ship was towed from the Ukraine to China, where it underwent extensive modernization of its hull, radar, and electronics systems. After years of refits, the Liaoning was commissioned into the PLAN in September 2012 as a training ship unassigned to any of the Navy’s three major fleets. Two months after the ship was commissioned, the PLAN conducted its first carrier-based takeoff and landings. Although the Chinese have made significant progress in developing their carrier program, it will be several years before a carrier air regiment is fully integrated into the PLAN. Significant questions about the Liaoning’s capabilities and future prospects remain, the most important of which may be what the Liaoning means for the rise of China as a global power.
A 3D LOOK AT THE LIAONING
HOW IS THE LIAONING DIFFERENT THAN OTHER COUNTRIES’ CARRIERS?
The Liaoning differs from the aircraft carriers of other countries in both size and capability. Although its overall capability is hindered by its comparatively inefficient power plant and underpowered aircraft-launching system, the Liaoningrepresents an important step in advancing China’s ability to project naval power.