China’s aircraft carriers: an interactive guide

See end of this post for an interactive guide to China’s aircraft carriers.

Varyag in Dalian

In August this year, the world’s attention was caught up in the sea trials of China’s first aircraft carrier, a refitted former Soviet vessel Varyag which China purchased from Ukraine. A few months further back in March, the UK Ministry of Defense put its decommissioned aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal up for bidding. Not surprisingly, it attracted a few Chinese buyers. James Hardy, Asia Pacific editor of Jane’s Defense Weeklytold Reuters:

It is very difficult to gauge what is going on here. The links between Chinese businessmen and the Communist Party are always somewhat ambiguous. The Chinese have a reputation for playing a long game, as well as for reverse engineering.

China has in fact played a long game in terms of foreign carrier acquisition. China has been enhancing its carrier technology for the past three decades. During this period, it has acquired four carriers, starting with HMAS Melbourne, a former British-designed Australian aircraft carrier which China purchased in 1985. The remaining three, Minsk, Kiev and Varyag, are all former Soviet vessels.

Melbourne, Minsk and Kiev had all been purchased as scraps, with all the sensitive kits removed. Furthermore, the purchases of Minsk and Kiev were made by businessmen intended to convert them into casinos or theme parks (this is in fact what they are now). However, it is reasonable to assume that they have all been thoroughly surveyed by the Chinese military for naval construction designs, as they sit for years in the dockyards before being transformed into something else.

Varyag is a little bit different. It started life as an unfinished Soviet carrier which was later transferred to Ukraine. It was also the largest and the newest among the four, with technologies from the 1980s. When Ukraine tried to sell it to China in the 1990s, the US pressured Ukraine to remove all the sensitive equipment before doing so. Nonetheless, it was chosen to be transformed into China’s first operational aircraft carrier, after spending years in the naval dockyards in Dalian. Interestingly, like the cases of Minsk and Kiev, Varyag was also intended to be used for entertainment.

With three out of the four aircraft carriers that China purchased being Soviet-designed, it is reasonable for China to refit an ex-Soviet carrier as its first functional aircraft carrier. This brings us to the question of why China is now bidding for a British Ark Royal design. Is it really for a purely business purpose, or is China switching models?

The answer could perhaps be found in China’s purchase history. Its very first purchase of HMAS Melbourne is a Majestic class British light aircraft carrier design dating back to 1942, and has been in use by eight other naval forces until 2001. HMS Ark Royal is also a light aircraft carrier, belonging to the Invincible class which was developed in the 1970s with the successful vertical landing technology.

The other three larger, ex-Soviet vessels variously belonged to the Kiev and Admiral Gorshkov classes, which were both a combination of a carrier and a cruiser, capable of engaging in anti-aircraft, anti-submarine and surface warfare. They thus represent a different design philosophy from that of the British carriers, which are more intended for the projection of air power than providing an air support platform for other guided missile cruisers and submarines, as in the Russian Navy.

Thus, China’s bidding for HMS Ark Royal might signal that it wants to pick up from where it left off at HMAS Melbourne. Perhaps mastering two design philosophies would be the way to go in the complex maritime geographies surrounding China. But another equally plausible reason is that, given that China is far behind in carrier technologies, and the difficulties of purchasing a foreign craft due to the world’s distrust in China’s rise, it has to jump at every bidding opportunities. Only after getting as much on the table as possible can it decide which way to go.

Click here to access an interactive guide to the four aircraft carriers which China purchased from abroad. This is based on two Chinese reports from the Southern Weekend (16 September 2011) and the Caing Magazine (18 July 2011). For optimal viewing, you may need to reset your browser’s zoom setting.

0 thoughts on “China’s aircraft carriers: an interactive guide”

  1. SKC. This is really painful to watch. All this attention only gives Pugster an erection.

    Exercise some posting discipline. Ignore him. Surely you must have better things to write about? Anyway, that’s my policy henceforth.

    Wish I had never linked that bloody article.

    I’m serious.


  2. I’m not surprised that a china bashers here who don’t understand the term sensationalism. It is not surprising because Western propaganda sensationalizes everything, but seems pretty normal to them.


  3. To da Loser:
    “who don’t understand the term sensationalism”
    —listen, I gave you the Wiki definition (admittedly hardly definitive) as well as the Webster’s definition (probably somewhat more of an authority on issues like the meaning of words in the English language). Your usage of the term contravenes both those definitions. Perhaps you can tell us where you came by your curious definition of “sensationalism”…and please note that “the meaning in your head” is not exactly going to suffice. You are such a loser.

    Now, this thread is not about “sensationalism”, nor is it about Western propaganda, nor is it about how western media supposedly sensationalizes “everything”, nor about David Axe. This thread is about the Shi Lang…you know, the certified pre-owned PLAN aircraft carrier…minus the “certified”. Do you have anything to say about the aircraft carrier itself? Anything at all to rebut the assertion based on its specifications that it is junk?

    Man, the next time a CCP apologist stops obfuscating and actually acknowledges the topic of discussion would be the very first time. It would also be nice if CCP apologists could grow a brain, or refrain from ridiculous and disingenuous arguments, or be able to conduct a conversation with some semblance of logic. But I guess one shouldn’t hope for too much from people of limited capacity.


    To KT:
    you know I like to mock CCP apologists with crappy logic who can’t make a coherent argument…which, come to think of it, is all of them.

    I quite enjoyed the initial Axe article you linked. Quite informative. And it led to the other article on subs, which was also informative. I learned something from both, so that was time well spent. Pounding on da Pug is just for amusement…which is also time well spent when I’ve got the time.


  4. Putzster, if this had been a boxing match, even a bare-knuckle fight of the old sort, your manager would have practically buried the ring under a heap of towels by now. I would say that you can’t speak, read, or write English at the level necessary to engage in reasonably debate, but your fault is just as obviously in the field of rational thought.

    People on this site continually destroy your arguments utterly, usually on grounds of total illogicality, or, equally as often, based on your failure to properly understand the writings of others, only for you to carry on as if nothing had happened.

    You’re like the knight in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail who continues to offer combat even after having both arms and both legs chopped off. It’s pathetic, and not worthy of even a toddler, let alone a grown man.

    However, just to give you one last chance to recognise your folly, here’s the Collin’s English Dictionary definition of “sensationalise”:

    sensationalize, sensationalise [sɛnˈseɪʃənəˌlaɪz]
    (tr) to cause (events, esp in newspaper reports) to seem more vivid, shocking, etc., than they really are
    Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

    Notice how it’s the exact opposite of “under-hyping”, “down-playing” etc.? For Axe’s piece on the ex-Varyag to be “sensationalised” he would have to be presenting things as radically worse/better than they really are. However, to show this, you would have to actually 1) read his piece, and 2) point out where it was wrong. Unfortunately, unlike you, I have read the entire piece and he makes his argument (that the new Chinese carrier has been over-hyped) quite well.

    Axe’s piece is therefore the exact opposite of “sensationalism” as it is designed to counter-balance reportage seen by Axe as sensationalised. Axe is “down-playing” based on facts, not “over-hyping”.

    Remember: the original cover-story (i.e., lie) behind buying the carrier was to turn it into a floating casino – not a warship, the ship wasn’t allowed through the Suez Canal because it was “dead”, it nearly foundered off Skyros in the Aegean whilst under tow, it was bought from the Ukraineans at scrap-price as a practically empty hulk, its sister-ship is also often barely functional, it was built by the Soviet Union during its final demise, it is now roughly 26 years old – only a few years younger than the generation of carriers which the UK is taking out of service, etc. etc. etc.

    With all the above in mind, David Axe’s assertion (i.e., the ship is “junk”) would appear to be actually fairly uncontroversial, and far from “sensational”.



  5. give pug_ster a break. he/she/it is busy posting stuff all over the internet without success. for continued amusement, maybe list some counter arguments to choose from. multiple choice must help some. and remember, their dictionary of choice must be “with chinese characteristics”, not like the authoritative english dictionaries we get to use.


  6. FOARSE,

    Gees, you are really a moron thinking that just because the hull of the ship is 26 years old, the technology inside the ship is definitely not 26 years old. The first Nimitz class carriers are 35 years old, are they junk also? No, because every 25 years they get retrofitted with the latest technology.


  7. The obvious response to pug_ster here is that the incomplete ship sat (floated) rusting for about 15 years. That’s got to be a bit different than the usual refitting and modernization. I’m no expert so that’s where I stop.

    Still, no takers on the obvious? That ship was designed to be a “heavy aircraft-carrying missile cruiser”. Everybody tries to compare it to a Nimitz class and it comes out looking like junk.


  8. Putzster – Congrats on, again, missing the point – that the ship is 25+ years old even before entering service. Congrats also on critising a point I didn’t make (I said nothing about this meaning the electronics, engineering etc. would be out of date). Finally congrats on failling to say anything about Axe’s piece – wow, looks like you’ve scored a moron triple slam today!


  9. FOARSE,

    You really haven’t read what I said earlier so I will say it again. So if David Axe uses words like ‘junk,’ ‘empty nest,’ ‘defenseless’ and ‘Potemkin Carrier’ and it is not to seem more vivid, shocking, etc., than they really are? It is not just “down-playing” or counterbalancing. Rather, David Axe is overhyping can go both ways and he is overhyping about the futility of the Chinese armed forces. David Axe’s assessment is based on other ‘experts’ who are as dumb as he is and the garbage he wrote are not based on facts. These guys work for the US and has little or no contact with the Chinese military. And yes, I did read the article, and why don’t you point me to the article and prove otherwise?


  10. To cephaloless:
    good point. If someone took the rust-bucket shell of a 1986 Ford Mustang, then shoved into it the guts of a 2012 Boss 302, I guess ol’Pug there would be happy to pay sticker for it. Ford would be onto a new business model there, with the only problem being that no other consumer in the world could possibly be as stupid as our pug.


  11. To the resident idiot:
    “So if David Axe uses words like ‘junk,’ ‘empty nest,’ ‘defenseless’ and ‘Potemkin Carrier’ and it is not to seem more vivid, shocking, etc., than they really are?”
    —if the carrier is shockingly bad, and Axe describes it as such, then it is “shocking”. But it is “shocking” not based on Axe’s description. It is “shocking” based on how bad the carrier is. Turkey just had an earthquake and hundreds are dead! That is extemely shocking. And sadly true. The only chance you have is to rebut Axe’s actual criticism of the Shi Lang (and I’ve been telling you this is what you need to do, for days now) by showing us where his criticism is incorrect. Not surprisingly, you have repeatedly failed to do so. And you’re clearly too stupid to even realize that much. You really are a piece of work.

    “It is not just “down-playing” or counterbalancing.”
    —why would he need to downplay anything? If his opinion is that the Shi Lang is junk, then that’s his opinion. There is no need for him to water down his opinion just to appease idiots like you…who can’t even read or understand that which you read.

    “he is overhyping about the futility of the Chinese armed forces.”
    —umm, he’s talking about one (1) aircraft carrier. Seems like you’re doing more “overhyping” and hyperventilating than Axe is likely capable of…ever.

    “the garbage he wrote are not based on facts.”
    —examples?….Which criticisms were not factual? Come on, pug, you can do it. Chance for glory right here. Win one for the CCP. Earn that paycheck!

    “point me to the article and prove otherwise”
    —for the umpteenth time, the article has specific criticisms of the Shi Lang which justify Axe’s overall assessment of the vessel. If you choose to question those specifics, then you need to provide some to rebut them. It’s debating 101, moron. If Axe provided facts, trying to disavow them simply by saying his facts are “garbage” only works for those who only recently did away with diapers. Time to think like an adult…even if it is as a helmet-wearing, drooling one.

    There is something wrong with your upbringing that seems to prevent you from acknowledging the most basic and evident mistakes. You used “sensationalism” incorrectly. Be an adult, admit it, and move on. But somehow, you and your type are simply incapable of doing this. I’ve never observed such obstinence in any other group of people to this degree, as I have with CCP apologists. It’s like your badge of dishonour. Much like that poor 2 year old girl who was left at the side of the road to die by passers-by, it seems many in Chinese society are striving to get rich, and have forgotten about basic decency. Stop being such a dufus, stop worrying about Axe, and give us some facts about the supposed prowess of the Shi Lang.


  12. Wow KT, that is one ugly thing. I’d say the exterior looks like a third world casino as well.

    I only chose the stang since there was a 26 year old version as well as a modern day iteration. Wanted to keep the analogy consistent, not that Pug would’ve known any different, I suppose. I have a soft spot for older Pony cars like the GT350. But the mid 80s Stang had clearly lost its way and was a neutered shell of its former self. The Shelby GT 500 is great bang for buck, even with a live rear axle. But the Boss sounds to be a serious track-day weapon…or so they say in those car mags of consequence.


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