Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Varyag: a Chinese aircraft carrier

World Net Daily posted an article this week that fuels speculation on the possibility that China will soon have a seaworthy aircraft carrier. Apparently the Chinese had previously purchased an old Russian carrier (the "Varyag") that now sits in a Chinese naval station. Speculation exists that the Chinese are now readying this carrier for use in the Chinese navy. provides the story of how the Chinese acquired the carrier in the first place:
The mystery of the 67,000 ton Russian aircraft carrier Varyag, now owned by China, continues. Last month, the Varyag was towed away from the pier, in the Chinese naval base of Dalian, where it had been tied up for the last three years. While there, it could be seen that work was being done on the ship. Most notable was rebuilding of the carriers island, and the installation of some electronics. The Vartag was only 80 percent complete when the Chinese purchased it, and had no engines or rudder. It’s uncertain what work was done internally. Dalian is a closely guarded base, with no reporters allowed.

China spent over $50 million to buy the unfinished 67,000 ton Varyag, and tow it to the Chinese naval base at Dalian. Originally, the Varyag was bought, for three times its scrap value, by a Chinese front company (that turned out to be owned by the Chinese navy). Their stated intention was to convert the ship into a floating casino in Macao (near Hong Kong). This turned out to be a cover story, to get Turkey to allow the Varyag to be towed out of the Black Sea. There’s an international treaty that allows Turkey to control what warships pass through the Turkish controlled entrance to the Black Sea, so the Chinese had to make it look like the Varyag was no longer going to be used as a warship. The Chinese then spent $30 million, and 627 days, to tow the engineless Varyag to a Chinese naval base. The Varyag was originally designed to operate the Su-27 fighter (which the Chinese have).

For the Chinese to possess such a weapon would dramatically alter the balance of power in Asia. The consequences for Japan, Taiwan and South Korea would be immediate. U.S. forces would remain superior, but the U.S. main point of superiority would be compromised. The ability to project air power into "blue water" is crucial. For us to lose our monopoly on this power to an entity intent on conquering Taiwan would have consequences about which we can only speculate.

Aircraft carriers are prohibitively expensive to maintain. The ability of the Chinese economy to maintain such a weapon will continue to grow as trade grows between China and the West.

The Germans began constructing an aircraft carrier shortly before World War II. Had they completed it instead of abandoning the project, that carrier could have altered the balance of power in the Atlantic before the U.S. entry into the war. Germany's inability to project air power into the Atlantic was a decisive factor in England's utlimate success in the battle for the Atlantic.

While we are only speculating at the moment, we continue to ignore this story at our peril.

For a previous post on the Chinese military buildup in general, click here.

For the Clinton connection, click here.

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