Sunday, 11 August 2013

Liaoning and Admiral Kuznetsov

An interesting something - the Chinese have classified their aircraft carrier Liaoning as a 'training carrier'. This, for a three-hundred meter long, 58,000 ton behemoth that's larger than everything except for its sister vessel Admiral Kuznetsov and the American Nimitz-class supercarriers. Everyone has spoken (with palpable unease) about the Chinese desire to create a proper blue-water navy. What's interesting is the way they're going about this - they're willing to classify a fully capable aircraft carrier as a 'training carrier' and use it as a platform to train their aviators for their future catapult-equipped nuclear carriers. It's an excellent example of long-term thinking and planning, and I have to say that it's better than most navies can manage. Whether or not the bankruptcy of the casino in Macau that bought Liaoning (as Varyag) from the Russians was a lucky accident or planned, the end result has been quite to the People Liberation Army Navy's advantage.

That being said, I look at the Liaoning I also wonder how things are going with the Kuznetsov's planned modernization. From what public materials are available on the placement and location of the Granit missile launchers, it seems more likely that Kuznetsov's modernization will remove them for additional storage space or in case the entire ski-ramp is knocked down and replaced with catapults. Liaoning doesn't have any installed, but I won't be surprised if the Chinese install those on the angled deck at some point before their catapult-equipped carriers come into existence. Certainly getting rid of the P-700 missiles won't help with the hangar space - Kuznetsov's hangar length is 153 meters or about 50% of its length (the Kiev class had the same fraction - 136 meters, or half of their length) and the missiles are mounted far forward on the ski ramp. They'd have to rearrange the internals quite a bit if they want to expand the hangar - but then, they're the ones who built the ship and know how to go about it if that's  what they have in mind.

This is quite a problem for the Indian Navy - until INS Vishal comes in sometime in the 2020s the Indian Navy will be operating warships of a significantly reduced capacity - old warrior INS Viraat will go till 2018, INS Vikramaditya is due at the end of the year, and INS Vikrant is due to enter when Viraat retires. Vikrant and Vikramaditya together would put together a signficant air arm, but neither of those ships will be able to operate any really large air assets without catapult takeoff. The MiG-29K is an aircraft with a proven lineage but its range and takeoff weight are restricted on a ski-jump. Combined, both ships would do better than the Liaoning, but they're not likely to match the capabilities of China's "true" carriers until Vishal comes into being.

It would be interesting to see how Indian carrier development proceeds, given their concerns with the Chinese Navy. Aircraft carriers have reigned supreme as Naval power projection assets - but how will they be used in the future?

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