Liaoning. Should the US Navy worry about it?

Liaoning.  It is about time I turn some attention to China’s 55,000-tonne carrier. She is Russia’s Kuznetsov sister ship and class mate, originally known as Riga and then Varyag during the Soviet era. Both ships were classified as aircraft-carrying cruisers as a work-around the Montreux Convention, which only allowed aircraft carriers up to 15,000-ton (13,600 metric tonne) to travel through the Bosphorus strait, north-western Turkey. She was laid down in 1985, and construction was cancelled in 1992 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Ownership was transferred to newly-independent Ukraine, where the poor ship was laid up and neglected. At the turn of the century, China acquired Varyag and has since modernised and upgraded her. The newly built Liaoning began sea trials in 2011, and was finally commissioned the following year. At the end of last year, the carrier finally began sea exercises, which has caused a stir among nations in the region around China.

Liaoning during induction – Simon YANG (taken 2012)

Around the same time, more than a few people have begun to take aim at the United States Navy, saying they should be worried about China’s rise to sea power. There does not seem to be a lot of news articles talking about it, but there is an opinion war as to whether the US should be worried or not about the growing strength of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Thus, this is ideal for me to stick my nose in the debate between USN aviation versus PLAN’s future aviation capabilities, given carriers are my interest.

At the moment, No. America should not be worried.

The USN has ten 100,000-tonne nuclear-powered Nimitz-­class supercarriers at its disposal. It also has two also 101,000-tonne Gerald R. Ford-class supercarriers; one due for commissioning (PCU Gerald R. Ford CVN-78) and the other under construction (PCU John F. Kennedy CVN-79). A third (future USS Enterprise CVN-80) is also on order. 83,000-tonne conventionally-powered USS Kitty Hawk CV-63 is also currently in mothballs in case of future use. Despite the nuke-powered USS Enterprise (CVN-65) exiting service in 2012, the USN is still technically an 11 carrier-supporting navy. Gerald R. Ford will bring the number back up to eleven. The now-in-office President of the United States Donald Trump has vowed to fund the Navy to support a 12-carrier navy. This could potentially mean the reactivation of Kitty Hawk until John F. Kennedy is completed, since her internal condition is said to be excellent based off a few accounts. The oldest active carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) is thus not scheduled to be replaced until the upcoming Enterprise is commissioned, although delays to the Gerald R. Ford program could mean delays for future units of the class. Meaning Nimitz could be deactivated before Enterprise is launched.

Artist’s impression of upcoming USS Enterprise CVN-80 – US Navy (created 2013)

Let me throw some more figures at you. 😀 Do you think I would let you forget those lovely, small and petite amphibious carriers, each capable of supporting a decent amount of SVTOL aircraft like the Harrier II and infamous F-35B Lightning II? Exactly. So, that is another eight 41,100-tonne Wasp-class landing helicopter dock (LHD) carriers, three 45,000-tonne America-class landing helicopter assault (LHA) carriers (1 commissioned, 1 under construction, 1 on order) and three 39,000-tonne Tarawa-class LHAs in mothballs. There is also the question of the distant cousins to the carriers, the two 19,000-tonne Blue Ridge-class landing command & control (LCC) carriers, whose hulls were based on the old and now long-retired Iwo Jima-class landing platform helicopter (LPH) carrier design. These LCCs can handle a small contingent of helicopters.

So yeah, summarising that. The USN has the following:

  • 19 carriers in active service; 10 supercarriers, 8 LHDs, 1 LHA
  • 4 carriers in reserve: 3 LHAs, 1 supercarrier
  • 3 carriers due by the end of this decade; 2 LHAs, 1 supercarrier
  • 1 carrier due the next decade; 1 supercarrier
  • In addition, 2 cousins of carriers; 2 LCCs

That is twenty-eight motherfucking flat-tops the USN can play with by 2020 (if everything remains on the current schedule). The PLAN has one active carrier, and two other carriers under construction. Only two of those three will be operational by the end of the decade. After the “Type 001” Liaoning (CV-16), CV-17 will be completed to a modified Liaoning design (Type 001A). CV-18 will be a Type 002 ship, and very little is known as to what the design will be like. It will likely be only an incremental improvement to Type 001A.

So concluding, the figures say America has no reason to worry. For Asian and some European countries, things are another matter. I will likely make another post tackling that situation in the near future. This is purely a USN-based post, and quite frankly there is not enough information on the combat performance and technical specifications of the PLAN’s current and future carriers (respectively) to speculate on actual navy versus navy performance. The statistics and metrics of the USN carrier fleet and infrastructure indicate the USN will remain the World’s foremost powerhouse when it comes to naval aviation and even general naval force. None of this even covers the escorting capabilities of each navy, but the USN has far more experience escorting its ships than the PLAN does. The USN has more experience in general when it comes to blue-water operations. Training is to a high standard, and potentially will increase as naval funding increases under the Trump administration.

(Oh yeah, I should disclaim I have no love for the bigoted, anti-science, anti-progressive President Trump what’s so ever. I just happen to like his naval spending policy.)

So. there you have it. My two cents on the argument. Take what you want from it. I never stated I was a naval analysist. 😛 As aforementioned, expect more posts on Liaoning soon!


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