Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Home is where the aircraft carrier is
Liaoning arrives at home port after upgrade program in Dalian finished
China's aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, dropped anchor for the first time at a naval port on Wednesday morning.
After a 22-hour voyage, the Liaoning emerged from the fog and anchored in Qingdao, at around 8 am, footage from the China Central Television showed. The name of the port was not identified.
China's aircraft carrier docks at Qingdao
China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, anchors for the first time at a port in Qingdao, Shandong province, on Wednesday morning. [Photo/Xinhua]
The carrier embarked from the Dalian shipyard in Liaoning province, where it underwent upgrades, at about 9:30 am on Tuesday. On the way to Qingdao it conducted weapons system tests, according to Xinhua.
"The Liaoning settling in its new home means that the carrier no longer needs further tests by the shipbuilder," Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the People's Liberation Army Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said.
The Liaoning will focus on training exercises with its escort ships, and it will take at least two to three years before China's first carrier battle group obtains full combat capability, he said. "The next phase of training will also prioritize exercises for carrier-based aircraft, including night operations and combat capabilities."
After being commissioned by the PLA navy on Sept 25, the Liaoning underwent a series of sea trials and tests, including landing and takeoff for the J-15 fighter jet.
Qingdao is the carrier's first homeport in China, but it will not be the last, Zhang said.
"Ideally each of the navy's three fleets should have at least one port that can accommodate their future aircraft carriers.
"The United States navy has five carrier homeports in the continental US and three offshore ones, enabling it to operate and project power around the globe," he added.
"The North Sea Fleet now has Qingdao. And when it comes to the East Sea Fleet and the South Sea Fleet, I think Zhoushan (in Zhejiang province) and Sanya (in Hainan province) will probably become their carrier's homeports."
There has been widespread speculation in the Western media that Sanya would be the homeport for the next carrier.
"Whether Sanya could be home to our second carrier depends on a variety of factors such as the international situation and our military strategy, so it is too early to make that conclusion,'' Zhang said.
A homeport must meet a number of criteria and a host of factors favored Qingdao, said Li Jie, a professor at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute.
"When the Liaoning was still being refitted at the Dalian shipyard, our planners have begun to pick a suitable homeport."
Liu Jiangping, a military expert, told the Beijing News that a homeport must have more than 5 million square meters of sea area and the maximum water depth must exceed 25 meters.
The military port in Qingdao also has a dry dock that belongs to the North Sea Fleet, which can repair or maintain all major surface vessels of the fleet, according to Kanwa Defense Review, a Canadian online magazine on defense affairs and weapon technology.
The publication said that the Qingdao port is less than 570 km away from the western coast of South Korea and 970 km from Nagasaki in Japan, which means the Liaoning will conduct its training within the boundaries of the Yellow Sea and East China Sea.
Netizens greeted the news with enthusiasm.
"The military port seems very advanced and amazing, especially when you know that this place (where the homeport is located) was once covered with piles of rocks," a netizen who goes under the name Nayuyan2013 wrote on the military website of Sina.com.
Many enthusiasts said they were looking forward to China commissioning more carriers.
"The Liaoning is alone in our navy. When can we give it more 'fellow carriers'?" asked Lizishushangdelizi, another micro-blogger.
Their desire was echoed by Zhang, who noted China should have at least three carrier battle groups.
Though the naval port in Qingdao belongs to the North Sea Fleet, that does not necessarily mean the fleet has been granted command of the Liaoning, according to Zhang.
"The carrier will not be able to perform duties without the support from the North Sea Fleet in terms of logistics and personnel, but whether it is a part of the fleet remains unknown."
Other naval news also attracted public attention.
Two 23,000-ton supply ships are undergoing sea trials and expected to enter into service this year, said an earlier report on the strategypage.com, a defense news website in the US. The addition of these ships will substantially enhance the PLA navy's operations and power projection, military observers said, adding they will also extend operational range for the carrier.
The PLA navy's next carrier could very possibly have nuclear propulsion, Du Wenlong, a senior researcher at the PLA's Academy of Military Science, told China Daily.
"China already has the technology and industrial capability to develop and build a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier," he said.
"We already have nuclear-powered submarines, which require more sophisticated technology and manufacturing capabilities, so developing a nuclear-powered carrier will not be difficult."
China has only five major supply ships to support a fleet that is conducting increasingly intense patrols and exercises, Reuters reported, adding the US navy has 34 supply ships to support about 140 major surface warships.
China Shipbuilding Industry Corp, one of the two dominant shipbuilders in China, said in an online news release on Feb 19 that one of its research institutions has received State approval and funding to formally begin research on core technologies for nuclear-powered ships.
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