A Rússia está enviando seu único porta-aviões para a Síria a fim de combater o “Estado Islâmico” naquele país. Chamado de “Almirante Kuznetsov”, o navio carregará ao menos 15 caças e dez helicópteros de ataque. O porta-aviões deve ficar estacionado no leste do mar Mediterrâneo pelo menos até fevereiro de 2017.
A Marinha da Índia retirou de serviço seus aviões do modelo Sea Harrier, que operavam a partir do porta-aviões INS Viraat. O plano é substituir os caças pelos MiG- 29Ks comprados da Rússia. Nova Deli adquiriu 30 unidades do Sea Harrier do Reino Unido em 1983, mas apenas 11 continuavam ativos. O plano inicial considerava a substituição com aviões feitos nacionalmente, mas o projeto está atrasado mais de 15 anos, segundo oficiais indianos.
O ministério da Defesa da China confirmou no dia 31 de dezembro que o país está construindo um novo porta-aviões. Este será o primeiro construído e desenvolvido nacionalmente, já que o Liaoning, o único que Pequim opera, foi adquirido da Ucrânia e posteriormente reformado. O ministério afirma que o navio aeródromo terá cerca de 50 mil toneladas e terá propulsão convencional.
Um porta-voz do comando militar dos Estados Unidos informou que navios de guerra do Irã realizaram testes de mísseis próximos a embarcações militares da coalizão internacional que combate o grupo “Estado Islâmico”. Os testes ocorreram no dia 26 de dezembro no Estreito de Ormuz, perto do porta-aviões estadunidense USS Harry S. Truman, do destróier USS Bullkeley e de uma fragata francesa, além de barcos comerciais.
Segundo fontes militares e fotos de satélite, a China estaria construindo dois porta-aviões em seus estaleiros com tecnologia exclusivamente nacional. Novos navios serviriam para missões de combate direto e se juntariam ao porta-aviões comissionado em 2012 Liaoning, o qual foi construído com base em tecnologia soviética. Novas armas fazem parte do plano de expansão naval da China até 2020.
O Secretário da Defesa dos Estados Unidos, Ashton Carter, está em visita à Índia, onde espera-se que novos acordos militares bilaterais sobre segurança marítima sejam assinados. Há expectativas de que Washington ajude Nova Delhi na construção de seu porta-aviões e no desenvolvimento de motores de jatos. Medida poderia acirrar a rivalidade geopolítica entre China e Índia.
A cúpula da Marinha está dividida quanto à reforma prevista no porta-aviões São Paulo, embarcação de guerra adquirida da França em 2000. O custo elevado da reforma, que pode ultrapassar R$ 1 bilhão para dar mais 20 anos de vida útil a um equipamento ultrapassado, faz com que um grupo de oficiais da Marinha defenda a baixa do equipamento, significando a “aposentadoria” do São Paulo.
Oficiais da Marinha dos Estados Unidos disseram que o porta-aviões USS Theodore Roosevelt foi enviado para o Golfo de Aden para interceptar eventuais carregamentos de armas do Irã para os rebeldes Houthis no Iêmen. Já há outras nove belonaves estadunidenses nos mares ao redor do país prontos para implementar o embargo de armas aprovado pelo Conselho de Segurança da ONU na semana passada. Contudo, a Marinha dos EUA não participa do bloqueio naval completo imposto pela Arábia Saudita e sua coalizão árabe.
Os caças mais avançados da Marinha dos Estados Unidos não podem decolar com do mais novo porta-aviões, o USS Gerald R. Ford, com tanques de combustível adicionais, informou um oficial da Marinha. A equipe de testes do Pentágono afirmou que o sistema de catapulta do porta-aviões provoca muito desgaste nos tanques, que são necessários para que os caças tenham o alcance de voo aumentado. O Pentágono acredita que essa é uma deficiência que pode tornar impossível para a Marinha a realização de operações normais.
A Rússia deve expandir a venda de caças Mikoyan MiG-29Ks/KUBs para a Índia, que está montando três esquadrões para operarem em seus porta-aviões. A empresa que fabrica o MiG está finalizando uma entrega de 29 MiG-29K para a Força Aérea Indiana até 2016. Mais de 70% do equipamento militar indiano foi produzido pela União Soviética ou pela Rússia, fazendo da Índia o principal cliente da indústria militar russa.
Durante a visita de Barack Obama à Índia, os dois países concordaram em cooperar na área de desenho e construção de porta-aviões. A cooperação tecnológica entre os dois países deve extender-se pelos próximos quinze anos. A Índia concluiu a construção de seu primeiro porta-aviões, o INS Vikramaditya, em 2013.
A França está deslocando seu porta-aviões nuclear Charles de Gaulle para a região do Golfo Persa. O navio deve atravessar o Canal de Suez para ir ao Oceano Índico, podendo iniciar operações em maio. Uma vez no golfo, o porta-aviões deve servir de apoio a missões de bombardeio contra alvos do “Estado Islâmico” no Iraque.
A modernização do navio-aeródromo (NAe) “São Paulo” iniciará em junho de 2015, logo após a conclusão de um projeto detalhado para a mesma, incluindo adaptações para o caça Gripen NG. O porta-aviões deverá retornar à atividade em 2019, permanecendo em operação por mais 20 anos, até 2039.
O governo do recém-eleito Narendra Modi aprovou nessa semana o financiamento para terminar a construção de um porta-aviões totalmente indiano no valor de 3,1 bilhões de dólares.
No último sábado (14/06), o primeiro-ministro da Índia, Narendra Modi, inaugurou o maior navio indiano da história, o porta-aviões INS Vikramaditya, em Goa. Foi a primeira atividade de Modi, recém-empossado, relacionada a assuntos de defesa.
Líder provincial do Partido Comunista Chinês confirmou que o país deu início à construção do seu segundo porta-aviões, que deve ficar pronto em cerca de seis anos. Também foi dito que o país pretende construir ao todo quatro belonaves desse tipo.
China declarou que está construindo um superporta-aviões nuclear de tamanho suficiente para competir com o equivalente mais poderoso dos Estados Unidos.
Após a quase-colisão entre belonaves chinesa e estadunidense no Mar do Sul da China que aconteceu no último dia 05/12, mas que só foi tornada pública na última sexta-feira (13/12), China afirma que o cruzador dos EUA estava ameaçando a sua segurança ao perseguir e importunar o novo porta-aviões chinês Liaoning.
Ministério da Defesa russo anunciou que a Marinha do país recebera quatro novos caças de porta-aviões de quarta geração MiG-29K. Até agora o avião só havia entrado em serviço na Índia.
Russian Navy Gets New Carrier-Based Fighters
RIA Novosti – 25/11/2013
The Russian navy has taken delivery of its first four series-produced MiG-29K/KUB carrier based fighter jets, the Defense Ministry said Monday.
“The MiG aircraft-manufacturing corporation has handed over two MiG-29K single-seat and two MiG-29KUB twin-seat carrier-based fighter aircraft,” a spokesman said.
The Russian Defense Ministry signed a contract with MiG in February 2012 for delivery of 20 MiG-29K and four MiG-29KUB fighters by 2015.
The aircraft will be deployed on Russia’s sole serving carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, based in Murmansk with the Northern Fleet.
The Admiral Kuznetsov currently operates Sukhoi Su-33 naval fighter aircraft.
The MiG-29K is a naval variant of the MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jet, and has folding wings, an arrester tail-hook, strengthened airframe and multirole capability thanks to its Zhuk-ME slotted array radar, MiG says.
Unlike the Su-33, which is capable of air defense missions only, the MiG-29K can be armed with a wide variety of air-to-surface as well as air-to-air weaponry and laser-designation systems.
The aircraft is also capable of “buddy” refueling other MiG-29Ks using the PAZ-1MK refueling pod.
So far, the aircraft has only entered service with India, for use on the refitted Russian-built carrier INS Vikramaditya, which was handed over to the Indian Navy on November 15.
Após a recente aquisição de porta-aviões da Rússia, Índia dá os primeiros passos para a obtenção de uma marinha de águas azuis verdadeiras. País será o único no continente, fora os Estados Unidos, a possuir mais de uma embarcação desse tipo, podendo projetar poder no Oceano Índico com mais facilidade ou mesmo em outros cenários.
India’s Emerging Blue-Water Navy
The Diplomat – 19/11/2013 – por Nitin Gokhale
On November 16, the Indian Navy finally took delivery of aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, formerly the Adm. Gorshkov, at Sevmash Shipyard in northern Russia’s Severodvinsk town. The acquisition marks a new phase in India’s quest to become a true blue-water navy.
The handover ceremony of the 44,570-tonne carrier is sure to have generated more than a passing interest within the PLA Navy and across the rest of the continent, since India will be the only country in Asia to have two aircraft carriers in its fleet. Admittedly, the 55-year old INS Viraat is “long in the tooth” as India’s Navy Chief Admiral D. K. Joshi himself described it in a recent interview, but it will continue to operate until India’s locally built carrier INS Vikrant becomes operational by 2017.
At the moment, only the U.S. Navy brings that sort of capability to Asia. Although it is coming five years late – the original delivery was scheduled for 2008 – the Vikramaditya will give India the ability to project raw naval power in its “near abroad” as well as in its extended neighborhood. With a capacity to carry two dozen Mig-29 K fighter jets and 10 Kamov helicopters at any given time on board and fitted with the latest sensors and missiles, the brand-new aircraft carrier will boost the Indian Navy’s firepower significantly.
But the Vikramaditya is not the only reason why the Indian Navy feels upbeat about its future capabilities. Naval aviation, long treated as a poor cousin of surface combatants in the Indian Navy, is exhibiting some new chutzpah of late. Days before Defence Minister AK Antony and flew to Russia with Joshi, the nation’s Defence Acquisition Council approved the purchase of four more Boeing P8I maritime patrol and antisubmarine aircraft in addition to the eight already contracted. The first of these eight planes was in fact parked at INS Dega airfield for everyone to see when Joshi formally inducted the newly acquired Advanced Jet Trainers Hawks into the Navy, to take training of Naval fighter pilots to the next level. The second P8I landed in India on November 15.
INS Dega, a small air station under Eastern Naval Command, is set to become Indian Navy’s biggest air base on the eastern seaboard soon. The expansion of air assets in the East is just one of the several plans that the Indian Navy has unveiled to strengthen its presence in the Bay of Bengal and support India’s “Look East Policy.” The P8Is are set to replace the hardy but old Soviet-made Tu-142 M aircraft that have been the backbone of the navy’s long range maritime patrols – with flights lasting up to 16 hours at a stretch. The P8Is are expected to play a major role in the Navy’s surveillance role in the Indian Ocean as well as Malacca Straits.
As Joshi told this writer in an interview for Indian broadcaster NDTV on board INS Jalashwa, the navy’s biggest amphibious ship: “The first P8I has already arrived and is in the process of being accepted. Various acceptance trials are in progress and by the end of the year we will have three of them and others following in quick order next year. That brings into this region a capability that has not existed before. It’s a brand-new aircraft, apart from the platform which in any case is a proven Boeing aircraft. The fit has been to the specification the US Navy currently has. So therefore the capabilities that are coming into our hands are absolutely state of the art.”
Another capability the Indian Navy quietly added earlier this year was a dedicated communication satellite for its exclusive use. The satellite is expected to fully stabilize by the end of December. Launched with the help of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the naval satellite is described as a force multiplier by senior naval officers. It covers the Navy’s entire area of interest in the Indian Ocean and beyond. The satellite handles all data transfers for maritime domain awareness and the entire range of communications and networking needs of the Indian Navy. “It brings an entirely new dimension in network operations and in maritime operations,” Joshi told this writer a fortnight ago, speaking about the satellite for the first time in the public domain.
In fact, but for an accident on board a refitted conventional submarine, INS Sindhurakshak that killed 18 sailors and sank the boat after an unexplained explosion in Mumbai harbor, the Indian Navy could have celebrated 2013 as one of its most significant years in terms of ramping up its capabilities. For instance, the nuclear reactor on India’s first locally built nuclear-powered submarine, the INS Arihant went “critical” in August, marking a major milestone in India’s effort to acquire a credible nuclear triad. One more year of sea trials will allow the Arihant to become operational by the end of 2014. With at least three more locally manufactured nuclear submarines in the pipeline, the Navy is hoping to overcome one obvious weakness in its arsenal: depleting submarine strength.
The force levels of conventional submarines is down to the single digits and with delivery schedules for two building projects running way behind time, naval headquarters is naturally worried about its submarine arm. Joshi admitted as much: “Submarine-force levels I agree with you are under strain,” he said, not wanting to sound too alarmist. He also hastened to add that by 2017-18 the two major submarine building projects will be back on track.
The big picture is indeed positive for the Indian Navy. Its long-term Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan had identified a mix of two major roles for the force: One, the traditional blue water operational capability and two, a plan to effectively counter threats closer to the coast. It is steadily working towards achieving that objective.
In April 2012 a new naval base, INS Dweeprakshak (Island Protector) was put into operation at Kavaratti in Lakshawadeep, the tiny island chain, southwest of mainland India. Although the Indian Navy has had a small presence on the strategically important islands for the past decade, its decision to open a permanent base emanated from recent incidents of piracy very close to these islands. The Navy has captured at least 100 pirates and foiled several piracy attempts in this area in recent times.
The Navy is also in the process of setting up Operational Turn Around (OTR) bases, Forward Operating Bases and Naval Air Enclaves along the coast, which would enhance the reach and sustainability of its surveillance effort on both the coasts. In 2011, the Navy focused on creating operational and administrative infrastructure in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands, considered the country’s strategic outposts.
Given the extensive plans presented to parliament, it is evident now that the Indian Navy is in the midst of its most ambitious expansion plan in the past three decades. Senior officers point out that the Indian Navy’s perspective-planning in terms of force-levels is now driven by a conceptual shift from numbers of platforms – that is, from the old bean-counting philosophy – to one that concentrates on capabilities.
As the Indian Navy Chief pointed out in our interview: “The navy has great reach and sustenance. Long sea legs. We can reach out to distant waters, and sustain ourselves, bring our combat potential to where it is so required.” With strategic planners predicting future conflicts in the Indo-Pacific, the Indian Navy’s rising profile will be keenly watched across the region and beyond.
Índia recebe da Rússia o porta-aviões Vikramaditya, modernizado por esta ao custo de 2,3 bilhões de dólares. Navio se torna o principal da Marinha indiana, que agora possui duas embarcações desse tipo.
India’s new flagship: Russia hands over modernized aircraft carrier to New Delhi
RT – 16/11/2013
The Indian Navy has received the 44,500-ton Vikramaditya aircraft carrier at the Russian shipbuilding complex in Severodvinsk. The much awaited carrier was fully refurbished for US$2.3 billion, and will now become India’s game-changing flagship.
Russian deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and Indian Defense Minister AK Antony attended the handing over ceremony at the Sevmash shipyard of the northern Arctic port city, along with other senior government and naval officials of the two countries.
During the ceremony, a Russian flag on the vessel was lowered, and the flag of the Indian Navy was raised in its place. This was followed by a traditional Indian ritual, in which a coconut was smashed against the ship’s side. The ship’s new captain, Suraj Berry, and the deputy director of Russia’s arms export agency Rosoboronexport, Igor Sevastyanov, signed the final handover papers.
Rogozin called the carrier “a mighty contribution to security of India,” adding that India remains a privileged strategic partner of Russia. The ceremony comes just two days ahead of the meeting of the Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission on military-technical cooperation.
Originally commissioned in 1987 as a Soviet Kiev-class aircraft carrier, the ship was deemed too costly for the Russian military budget and was deactivated in 1996. The aircraft carrier – then called ‘Admiral Gorshkov’ – caught India’s attention, and, following years of talks, a Russian-Indian deal for the ship was signed.
In order to match the demands of the Indian Navy, the carrier had to be fully modernized and converted from a hybrid carrier/cruiser to a pure carrier with a ski-jump ramp to fit multirole MiG-29K (Fulcrum-D) fighters.
The refurbishment work, which eventually saw over 70 percent of the ship and equipment replaced, was overshadowed by several delays and cost increases, leading to a diplomatic exchange and tightening of supervision. It became apparent in the process that the Russian shipbuilders underestimated the cabling work costs, and the initial $974 million price tag grew to about $2.35 billion. Some construction flaws also had to be fixed following the 2012 tests.
The purchase of INS Vikramaditya has been crucial for the Indian Navy, as its British-made INS Viraat, originally commissioned by the UK’s Royal Navy in 1959 as HMS Hermes, has been scheduled for retirement. India’s first indigenous Vikrant-class aircraft carrier has also been experiencing delays. It was launched two years behind schedule in August, with the expected service entry date being 2018.
Now that Vikramaditya is set to be escorted from Russia’s north to the Indian Ocean, India becomes one of the few nations in the world to have more than one aircraft carrier in service – the others being the US, the UK, and Italy. With two ships of that class, India will have the capability to promptly project force on both sides of the Hindustan Peninsula in the increasingly militarized region. Previously, India’s retired carrier INS Vikrant played a key role in enforcing the naval blockade on East Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971.
As for Russia, which currently has one aircraft carrier (Admiral Kuznetsov), it has “no need for [another] ship of the same class,” Rogozin said on Saturday. Calling the fact of having more aircraft carriers “a geopolitical issue,” the Russian deputy prime minister stressed it is “not the issue of the country’s defense capability.” Meanwhile, Russia awaits the delivery of two Mistral-class helicopter carriers from France.
The new Indian flagship was redesigned by Russian shipbuilders to carry 16 MiG-29K fighters and up to 10 Ka-27 and Ka-31 helicopter gunships. With the ship’s length being 284 meters and her beam nearly 60 meters, INS Vikramaditya stretches to an area as large as three football fields and has 22 decks for housing more than 1,600 crew members. It has been estimated that the ship can operate up to 45 days without replenishment, while having the capability to cover 1,400 kilometers a day and maintaining a “surveillance bubble” of a 500 kilometer radius.
US gears up for land operation in Persian Gulf?
Russia Today – 28/03/2012
The US is sending an amphibious assault group and a couple of thousand US Marines to the Persian Gulf. With another US carrier making its way to Iran’s doorstep, US military still insist that this is a “regularly scheduled deployment”.
The Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group is comprised of amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima, amphibious transport dock USS New York, and amphibious dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall. It is also reinforced with an atomic submarine and a marine helicopter squadron.
The group, which is “a versatile sea-based force that can be tailored to a variety of missions,” left port on Tuesday and is heading to the Gulf, the US Navy says.
Over 2,000 US Marines are to come on board Iwo Jima when the group makes a stop in North Carolina.
Many of those marines are veterans of ground combat in Iraq and Afghanistan making their first shipboard deployment, dailypress.com points out.
The US already has an amphibious group with an expeditionary marine unit in the Gulf region. The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group was deployed there in January, after Iran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial route that allows the delivery of around 20 per cent of the world’s oil.
Iran has repeatedly reiterated this threat over the last six month, while the US and its NATO partners kept increasing their naval presence in the region. (mais…)
Relatório da Defesa mostra sucateamento do setor militar
Estado de São Paulo – 22/11/2011
Documento sigiloso produzido pelos comandos militares sobre a situação da defesa nacional repassado ao Palácio do Planalto nos últimos dias mostra um sucateamento dos equipamentos das três Forças. Segundo os militares, os dados esvaziam as pretensões brasileiras de obter uma cadeira permanente no Conselho de Segurança das Nações Unidas, além de inibir a participação do País em missões especiais da ONU.
De acordo com a planilha obtida pela reportagem, a Marinha, que em março mantinha em operação apenas dois de seus 23 jatos A-4, não tem hoje condições de fazer decolar um avião sequer do porta-aviões São Paulo. Com boa parte do material nas mãos de mecânicos, a situação da Marinha se distancia do discurso oficial, cuja missão seria zelar pela área do pré-sal, apelidada de Amazônia Azul.
Segundo o balanço, que mostrou uma piora em relação ao último levantamento, realizado em março, a situação da flotilha também não é confortável. Apenas metade dos navios chamados de guerra está em operação. Das 100 embarcações, incluídas corvetas, fragatas e patrulhas, apenas 53 estão navegando. Dos cinco submarinos, apenas dois ainda operam. Das viaturas sobre lagartas (com esteiras), como as usadas pelos Fuzileiros Navais para subir os morros do Rio de Janeiro, apenas 28 de 74 estão em operação.
China’s Aircraft Carrier: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
Strategic Studies Institute – Dr. David Lai
China test-sailed its first aircraft carrier on August 10, 2011. The maiden sail was remarkably low key, but its significance is far-reaching.
China’s journey to this début started in the mid-1990s when it approached Ukraine for the possibility of acquiring the half-built, but practically abandoned, Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag. The keel of this hulk was laid in 1985 and the ship was intended to serve in the Soviet Pacific Fleet, however, the construction was abruptly halted with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ukraine, home to the Soviet Union’s warship industry, kept the unfinished carrier as a “divorce asset,” but it had no money or need to complete the project. China eventually acquired the ship with a $20 million auction bid in 1998. At the time, this sea monster was literally an empty and rusty shell, since all of the critical equipment had been removed, including the rudder. China, however, was determined to bring it back to life.
Over the next 3 years, China went out of its way to negotiate with Turkey for the passage of Varyag from the Black Sea through the Bosporus, with China providing a bizarre assurance for safety and offering lucrative economic incentives to Turkey. In November 2001, this floating colossal was safely towed through the Istanbul Strait. It continued its nerve-racking journey through the Mediterranean Sea, and then over the rough waters around Africa, the Indian Ocean, the Southern Pacific, finally arriving in China’s northern port city of Dalian, next to the Chinese Naval Academy, the cradle of China’s naval officers, in March 2002. (mais…)
“Blue Water Dreams”
Why China wants an aircraft carrier.
Foreign Policy – 27/06/2011
por JAMES HOLMES
On a visit to Washington this month, Chinese Gen. Chen Bingde, chief of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Staff, confirmed what Asahi Shimbun and the Financial Times reported last December: China, he said, has officially committed itself to deploying aircraft-carrier task forces, a program that has evidently been under way since 2009. A Soviet flattop called Varyag, refitted and reportedly rechristened Shi Lang, may take to China’s “near seas” for sea trials sometime around July 1. Whenever it takes place, the maiden cruise of the Varyag will mark a milestone in China’s return to great power.
Any number of excellent technical studies of Beijing’s carrier plans have appeared in recent years, and much ink has been spilled debating the ship’s design characteristics: flight-deck configurations, launch and recovery systems, and propulsion plants. But to my mind, the best guide for figuring out what it all means in terms of China’s naval strategy isn’t the latest edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships, but rather the two-plus-millennia-old History of the Peloponnesian War. In his chronicle of the protracted war between Athens and Sparta in the fifth century B.C., the Greek general and historian Thucydides proclaims that “three of the strongest motives” animating states’ actions are “fear, honor, and interest.” Peoples must arm lest they fall victim to the “law that the weaker should be subject to the stronger.” China’s aircraft-carrier ambitions can be seen in similar terms.
During his tenure as chairman of the early People’s Republic, Mao Zedong took little interest in the sea, focusing instead on land defense. Even after the Great Helmsman’s demise, Chinese leaders like Deng Xiaoping contented themselves with free-riding on U.S. maritime supremacy, reasoning that finite resources were better spent on economic development than on putting steel in the water. But with development came increasing reliance on the sea for imports of fuel and raw materials, not to mention exports of finished goods. Shipping lanes now figure prominently in China’s foreign-policy calculus. Chinese statesmen accordingly fret that the United States will hold China’s economic interests hostage during a crisis or war in the Taiwan Strait or elsewhere in maritime Asia, mounting a “distant blockade” to interdict the crucial sea routes on which Chinese commerce overwhelmingly depends.
Fear that the U.S. Navy will cut China’s economic lifelines from afar beckons China’s strategic gaze irresistibly seaward. An editorial in the official People’s Daily last December captured China’s broader geopolitical anxieties. The United States, the editors write, is intent on preserving “its hegemony across the world,” including on the high seas in Asia. Focused on latter-day containment, Washington has stayed outside the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Why? Because, the editors write, it “considers exclusive economic zones to be international waters, which, by its hegemonic logic, should be included in the U.S. sphere of influence.” In voicing their own fears, Chinese pundits — not unreasonably — impute fear to the United States. “Any fast-developing country,” concludes the Daily, will be “instinctively seen” as a challenge to U.S. primacy. Such countries must construct strong military and naval forces, equipping themselves to resist a domineering America.
Such a bleak analysis would be instantly familiar to Thucydides, who found the “real cause” of the Peloponnesian War in the “growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta.” Fear made great-power war “inevitable.” From Beijing’s standpoint, assenting to permanent U.S. maritime supremacy would amount to knuckling under to Thucydides’s law condemning the weak to remain subservient to the strong. Dread of what U.S. leaders might do with overwhelming sea power helps account for China’s quest for a great navy.
But why aircraft carriers specifically? Beijing is already fielding an impressive cruise-missile navy specifically designed to deny U.S. naval forces access to Asian seas and skies during a Taiwan confrontation or some other upheaval. Cruise missiles, augmented by submarines, ballistic missiles, and land-based tactical aircraft, would be far more lethal against the U.S. Navy than any carrier fleet Beijing will put to sea anytime soon. Writing in International Security, Boston College professor Robert Ross ascribes China’s carrier-centric naval buildup to “naval nationalism.” In this view, high-end warships represent tokens of great power that Beijing simply must have to fulfill its destiny as a seafaring state. Such talismans fire popular enthusiasm for nautical endeavors, and for the state that undertakes them.
History is not unimportant here. China still nurses memories of its long “century of humiliation” at the hands of seaborne conquerors like imperial Britain, France, Germany, and Japan. Starting with the First Opium War (1839-1842), imperial powers defeated the ruling Qing dynasty again and again, compelling Qing emperors to accept “unequal treaties” along with such indignities as foreign gunboats patrolling Chinese rivers. Such memories are a lot for Asia’s historical central power to stomach. Furthermore, Chinese observers have looked around the U.N. Security Council and noticed that all five permanent members except China deploy aircraft carriers. Closer to home, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force operates light carriers known euphemistically as “helicopter destroyers”; South Korea has a similar vessel. Even Thailand has a flattop. The upshot is that a carrier will certify China’s arrival as a sea power.
But there’s more to China’s navy than nationalism — and there’s more to the Chinese aircraft-carrier program than salvaging China’s good name or keeping up with the Joneses. Beijing can use carrier task forces to uphold real, tangible interests. Most obviously, a PLA Navy carrier group could exit from the China seas through the Ryukyus, to Taiwan’s north, or the Luzon Strait, to the island’s south, during times of strife. By threatening the east coast of Taiwan, carrier groups would further complicate a tactical picture for the island’s defenders that already verges on hopeless. The PLA already holds a commanding margin of superiority, so carrier operations would not decide a cross-strait war. But compelling the Taiwan Navy and Air Force to look eastward — as well as westward and skyward — would further disorient them, letting the PLA set the terms of engagement. PLA forces could thus prevail before the U.S. military could intervene, and Beijing would fulfill its dream of national unification with minimal disturbance to the regional order.
There’s also the South China Sea, which has dominated headlines of late. Some Chinese-claimed islets in the Spratlys and Paracels are too small to fortify; carrier groups would provide a forward, mobile airfield from which to defend the islands, the adjacent waters, and the rich natural resources thought to lie in the seabed beneath. And as Beijing turns its gaze further southwest, carriers could anchor a PLA Navy presence in South Asia, should Chinese leaders opt to create a standing Indian Ocean squadron. Flattops could perform many functions, just as these multimission platforms have spearheaded U.S. naval operations since World War II.
Nor must Chinese carriers match their U.S. Navy counterparts on a ship-for-ship basis to achieve Beijing’s goals. As noted before, the PLA Navy surface fleet benefits from dense land-based fire support. For instance, the PLA Second Artillery Corps, or missile force, is reportedly fielding the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), a truck-launched weapon capable of striking ships under way hundreds of miles from Asian shores. There is no known defense against it. If the missile lives up to its hype — and if Beijing acquires sufficient numbers of rounds — U.S. Pacific Fleet commanders will be increasingly reluctant to venture westward of Guam. And if they do accept the losses inflicted by ASBM strikes, U.S. mariners will encounter land-based combat aircraft, quiet diesel submarines, and stealthy high-speed catamarans toting long-range anti-ship cruise missiles. Just reaching the combat theater could come at a steep cost.
If indeed the PLA converts the Western Pacific into a no-go zone for the U.S. Navy, it can uphold China’s Thucydidean interests without ever risking a battle with its major antagonist. Land-based defenses may grant PLA naval commanders time to train pilots. It’s a steep learning curve: In 1954 alone — fully eight years after a jet fighter first landed aboard the carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, and despite having developed sound concepts for flying jet aircraft from carrier decks — the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps lost 776 aircraft and 535 airmen. China is by no means exempt from such hazards. Shore defenses also give China’s navy a respite to work the engineering kinks out of the flattops themselves and to experiment with fleet tactics. Carriers steam in company with an entourage of escorts and logistics ships. It takes time to sort through various formations, defensive screens, underway replenishment techniques, and the like. Shore fire support affords the PLA leisure to devise its own approach to carrier operations, and it spares China the need for a costly, uncertain naval arms race with the United States. Why waste scarce resources?
By no means is combat readiness the sole motive propelling China’s carrier ambitions. Carriers can prosecute numerous noncombat missions. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, for instance, Chinese pundits took note of how U.S. Navy vessels transiting the afflicted region rushed to the scene to render assistance. Hard power, in other words, enabled the soft kind, and Beijing felt sidelined. To remedy such shortcomings, it has built vessels like hospital ships and amphibious transports suitable for responding to natural and humanitarian disasters. Big-deck carriers would make a worthy addition to China’s emerging disaster-relief repertoire.
And even these non-Thucydidean errands of mercy add luster to China’s maritime reputation, bolstering the legitimacy of its naval enterprise and thus indirectly advancing its national interests. Great powers do well by doing good. Comforting the afflicted is not only worthwhile in its own right but helps the benefactor establish a track record for using its martial prowess wisely and humanely. Such a power eases suspicions of its intentions by furnishing international public goods that benefit not only China but its Asian neighbors. Beijing knows that to truly be a great sea power, you have to look — and act — the part.