August 25, 2005
Flat Top Dragon

Janes, via Fark, is reporting some suspicious activity around Varyag, the never-completed Russian carrier the Chinese bought seven years ago:

Chinese shipyard workers have been repairing a badly damaged ex-Russian aircraft carrier and have repainted it with the country's military markings, raising the question once again of whether China is pursuing longer-term plans to field its first carrier.

In the latest developments, images show that workers at the Chinese Dalian Shipyard have repainted the ex-Russian Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier Varyag with the markings and colour scheme of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy (PLAN). Additional new photographs show that other work, the specifics of which could not be determined, appears to be continuing and that the condition of the vessel is being improved.

Long-time military buffs should remember Varyag... it was the hapless hulk that was towed around the Black Sea for several years (I think as many as three) while people figured out how to get it to China. Most of its hatches and elevators had been open to the elements for years previously, and it did not have a powerplant or rudder. The thing was widely considered a rusting pile of junk then, although it's hard to say what four years of industrious work may have done to improve the situation.

While a single carrier is enough to raise eyebrows in the west (and give its primary target, India, an ulcer or two), this will definitely not threaten the US's Pacific fleet, which at last count has six. If it is eventually turned into a military asset, the Chinese will learn what every other nation has learned about big-deck carriers... they're very expensive, insanely complex, and more than a little dangerous to operate. There's a reason only seven nations in history have ever operated them, and of those only one in any real numbers since WWII. With a name as incongruous as "The People's Liberation Army Navy", I think it may be a long time indeed before Varyag ever gets underway.

Posted by scott at August 25, 2005 08:40 AM

eMail this entry!

Yeah, they got a stupid name, but you can't beat the acronym -- PLAN. That's gotta be worth a little something...


Posted by: Jay Tea on August 25, 2005 10:16 AM

I'm sure it sounds cooler in Chinese.

Posted by: John on August 25, 2005 10:27 AM

pics of the ship are available at

however, as a threat, well, I just can't see it. Per Wikipedia, a Carrier Battle Group is comprised of one carrier , two guided missile cruisers, 2-3 guided missile destroyers, anti-sub warfare frigate, two attack subs, and a supply ship. The reason they've got all of this is to protect the carrier from the rest of the People Who Want To Hurt It. In order for China's carrier to be a real threat, they'd have to have all of this as well, which I'm not sure they can currently do. Per, they do have some measure of support ships, but probably not enough to truly protect the carrier, especially if it came to a shooting war with the West - that'd be one of the first things to go, and it'd go bye-bye quickly. China can certainly be a world power, in terms of military might, but they're crippled by the lack of ability to get to us. Our allies, however, are certainly vulnerable to some extent - especially Japan and India.

Posted by: ronaprhys on August 26, 2005 12:27 PM
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