"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with
power to endanger the public liberty." - - - - John Adams

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

China's new aircraft carrier

Chinese Navy Destroyers

China's aircraft carrier - a rising military power?

As China gets ready to launch their new aircraft carrier the United States needs to re-evaluate our military.

It has been said that generals are always ready to fight the last war.  That has proven correct so many times over the centuries with the victors in the last wars getting their clocks cleaned in the new one.

Large navy ships make the admirals happy.  But in the modern world have they become nothing more than expensive targets?

A Japanese kamikaze aircraft explodes after crashing
into Essex' flight deck  November 1944

Starting at the end of World War II we saw the beginning of the end of the modern navy.  Fairly low tech kamikaze planes simply rammed allied ships.  About 50 ships were sunk including three carriers.

Are our ultra-modern ships simply targets to be sunk?  I suspect the answer is yes.

If fairly primitive propeller planes can sink dozens of ships then what happens to a modern navy in a world of missile technology, silent and invisible subs or even low yield nukes?

In any real conflict with a modern nation, any military in the world could easily see their navy at the bottom of the sea courtesy of technology.

But that has not stopped China.  The giant, grey hulk of China's newest warship, 60,000 tonnes of steel, sits at a dockside in the port of Dalian, almost ready to set sail reports the BBC.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has been reluctant to say anything about its first aircraft carrier as it has not yet entered service. But it must be the military's worst-kept secret. It is there for all to see, somewhat incongruously, right behind Dalian's Ikea superstore.

The huge carrier has been years in the making, and it is an unmistakable sign of China's expanding military and its desire to project Chinese power further beyond its borders than ever before.

"An aircraft carrier is a symbol of the power of your navy," says General Xu Guangyu, who used to serve in the PLA's headquarters and is now retired.

"China should at least be on the same level as other permanent members of the UN Security Council who have carriers."

The 300m (990ft) carrier, under construction in
Dalian, is thought to be nearly finished

Gen Xu now advises China's government on its military modernization program. Seven nations currently operate carriers - it used to be eight, but the UK has just withdrawn its last one from service and will have to wait several years for a new one to be built.

"It's also a symbol of deterrence," adds Gen Xu, "It's like saying, 'Don't mess with me. Don't think you can bully me.' So it's normal for us to want a carrier. I actually think it's strange if China doesn't have one."

America says China's military developments are opaque and shrouded in secrecy, its real intentions unclear.

"For the longest time China denied that they were going to pursue an aircraft carrier navy even trying to get the world to believe that the purchase of the first aircraft carrier from Ukraine was all about creating a new casino in one of their harbors," says Rick Fisher, a senior analyst at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, a think tank in Virginia, US.

"[It] is going to have aircraft comparable in capability to the recent fighters on American fighter decks in about two to three years time."

A kamikaze strikes aircraft carrier St. Lo, causing an enormous fireball.
A gasoline fire erupted, followed by six secondary explosions, including detonations
of the ship's torpedo and bomb magazine. St. Lo was engulfed in flame and
sank 30 minutes later.

Last month the visit of Chen Bingde, the Chief of the General Staff of the PLA, to the Pentagon was trumpeted as an effort to improve long-strained military relations between the US and China.

He tried to allay American fears by saying China would never seek to match US military power. China, he said, is way behind America.

"This visit to America, I saw America's military power, I feel stunned, not only do we have no ability to challenge America, but also the American warships and aircraft, America's strategy, it's a real deterrent for us."

The PLA has invested heavily in submarines. It is believed to be close to deploying the world's first "carrier-killer" ballistic missile, designed to sink aircraft carriers while they are maneuvering at sea up to 1,500km (930 miles) offshore, and it is building its own stealth fighter aircraft along with advanced carrier-based aircraft built from Russian designs.

All of these can target US bases, US ships and US carriers in Asia. They will make it much more dangerous for US carrier fleets to operate close to China's coast, pushing them out further offshore.

Taiwan, Korea and Japan that look to the US for their security may start to question how much America can really protect them in future. This may, one day, undermine US security guarantees and its influence in the region.

USS Cole was put out of action by a low tech weapon

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