Chinaâ€™s first aircraft carrier built in Ukraine
After rusting for years at a dock in Ukraineâ€™s main shipbuilding center at Mykolayiv, the aircraft carrier Varyag was sold to allegedly private Chinese interests who claimed plans to use it as a seaside casino in China. Reports just surfacing say the completely refitted carrier will soon be ready to see service as Chinaâ€™s first aircraft carrier.
Ukraine Business Online
BEIJING, Jan. 19, 2011 (UBO) â€“ After laying derelict for years as it deteriorated, one of the most expensive shipbuilding projects of the Soviet era was sold in April 1998 for $20 million and towed to China where it was allegedly to become a seaside casino. The sale was made by the Ukrainian government, which acquired the Varyag as a part of its negotiations after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Now the ship that was called the Riga at the time its keel was laid in 1985 and later renamed the Varyag appears ready to set sail into the 21st century as Chinaâ€™s first aircraft carrier and the training carrier for Chinaâ€™s ambitious naval expansion plans.
A report appearing today in the Canadian Press service quotes the Kanwa Asian Defense magazine as saying that a restoration that included all working compartments, engines, navigation systems and power-generating equipment has brought the ship near to operational status as a naval vessel.
When is an aircraft carrier not an aircraft carrier?
The Varyag has been a bit controversial from its inception since subterfuge was involved in it original description. Since the Turkish government prohibits aircraft carriers passing through the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, Soviet planners gave the ship a previously unknown designation as a tyazholiy avianesushchiy kreyser (TAKR or TAVKR)â€”â€œheavy aircraft-carrying cruiserâ€â€”intended to support and defend strategic missile-carrying submarines, surface ships, and maritime missile-carrying aircraft of the Soviet fleet.
Whether or not the Ukrainian government of the time actually knew that the Peopleâ€™s Liberation Army was behind the purchase of the Varyag is unclear. However, the after-purchase involvement of high level government officials and the provision of certain promises that could be made only by a sovereign government clearly indicated a very high level of official interest in moving the ship to China. Incidentally, some analysts believe the costs of transporting the Varyag to Chinese waters far exceeded the purchase price paid to Ukraine.
A Dutch owned seagoing tugboat, the Sahaili, accomplished the tow, which included 16 months of aimless wandering in the Black Sea during the lengthy negotiations finally required to move the ship through the Dardanelles. On 1 November 2001, Turkey relented and allowed the transit although there was still fear that Varyag could do damage to some of Istanbulâ€™s bridges.
A transit of the strait that would normally have taken less than two hours required six hours, and reportedly involved a total of 27 boats including 11 tug boats, three pilot boats, 16 pilots and 250 seamen. By the time the Varyag reached Gallipoli, it was probably clear to anyone really paying attention that the old Varyag was likely to have a military future far beyond any alleged life as a Macau casino.
Smaller than current aircraft carriers, the Varyag is just the first of a naval force unparalleled in Chinese history
With its unusual upswept bow, the Varyag is referred to as a ski jump-style carrier, displacing about 55,000 tons, as compared to the Japan-based U.S. carrier George Washington, which has a displacement of more than 100,000 tons.
The Canadian Press report says that China is believed to be purchasing Russian Su-33 carrier-based fighters as well as adapting its own J-11 jets for carrier landings and takeoffs.
When President Barack Obama sits down to serious private talks in Washington today during the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao, it is likely that Chinaâ€™s very expansive military plans, of which the Varyag is just a tiny part, are likely to be among the most difficult items on the agenda.
Writing in the Asia Times, Rodger Baker said, â€œThe Chinese fear a potential US blockade of their coast. While this may not seem a likely scenario, the Chinese look at their strategic vulnerability, at their rising power and at the US history of thwarting regional powers, and they see themselves as clearly at risk.
â€œChina's increased activity and rhetoric in and around the South and East China seas also clearly reflect this concern. For Beijing, it is critical to keep the US Navy as far from Chinese waters as possible and delay its approach by maximizing the threat environment in the event of a conflict.â€
What appears likely â€“ perhaps even certain â€“ when Chinaâ€™s first fully equipped aircraft carriers put to sea in the furtherance of Chinese interests, the pilots of the aircraft on their decks will have been trained on what is about to become Chinaâ€™s first training carrier, the refitted and refurbished Ukrainian-built Varyag.
Republished here with the full & complete permission of UBO: http://ukrainebusiness.com.ua/news/1987.html