As far as overblown fears of the Chinese military are concerned, the impending launch of China’s first aircraft carrier is just another sign of the Beijing’s growing strength and assertiveness. In the past few years the task of modernizing the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been thrown into full gear with the development of more capable destroyers, bases, and defenses. But China’s navy is still far from posing the type of threat than China hawks might believe-and its first aircraft carrier is no different.
As David Axe argues in an excellent piece in Wired’s Danger Room, China’s first carrier faces serious limitations at the tactical level. These include the fact that:
- China’s first aircraft carrier, the Shi Lang, will enter the Pacific at a time when some 22 carriers are already operating in the region–none of which belong to a close ally of China.
- China’s destroyers and submarines which make up a carrier battle group are inferior–both in quality and quantity–to their American counterparts.
- The Shi Lang’s ability to interact with those submarines is constrained by its communications technology.
- While the Shi Lang may have a wing of fighter jets and submarine-hunting helicopters, “the PLAN has doesn’t have radar-jamming jets, carrier-based airlifters or fixed-wing radar planes.”
- The carrier’s turbines, reportedly purchased from Ukraine, have plagued the Shi Lang’s sister ship (the Russian Kuznetsov) with unreliable performance.
Even one of China’s Rear Admiral’s, Yin Zhuo, recently wrote that “this one vessel can conduct anti-ship warfare and provide regional deterrence and control; it carries aircraft and anti-submarine helicopters. It is therefore a platform with a lot of stuff, but nothing is really good.”
The United States and other countries should not underestimate China, nor should we judge its intentions based on the development of one weapons platform. Attempts to analyze China’s growing military should be based on a realistic perspective (as Mr. Axe offers), without the alarmist, fear-mongering that is all too common in our media and public discourse.
— Jordan D’Amato