As promised a while a go, I said I would be taking a closer look at the carriers of Asia and what People’s Liberation Army Navy’s Liaoning means politically. I will start by over-viewing these carriers, explaining future carriers of Asia, and then assessing if China’s carrier is really a threat. But before I get into this, I should obviously note that a lot of these carriers are helicopter carriers and are not really comparable . But just bear with me, I have a point I want to make! 🙂 Another thing to note is that this analysis does not include any mention of the influences of the US Navy’s Pacific presence.
Indian Navy – INS Vikramaditya (R33) fleet carrier
Kicking off this Indian’s only carrier in service. Formerly a Soviet Kiev-class “aircraft-carrying cruiser” under the name Baku then Admiral Gorshkov in post-Soviet Russian service, this carrier is in fact the most powerful (behind Liaoning‘s full potential) on the list. Roughly 41,190 tonnes (versus Liaoning‘s 55,000 tonnes) displacement, she comes relatively close is size too. The 283.5-metre Vikramaditya supports up to 36 aircraft (26 multi-role MiG-29K fighters + 10 helicopters for airborne early warning and control and anti-submarine warfare), whilst housing 110 offices and 1,500 sailors. Before her commissioning into the Indian Navy in 2013, she had be extensively modified to operate as a STOBAR carrier (as opposed to the STOVL configuration at launch). Basically, the ‘cruiser’ components were removed to allow the entire top deck to be a flight deck and a ski-jump ramp was installed for aircraft.
Japanse Maritime Self-Defence Force – Ōsumi-class landing platform dock carrier
The first Japanese carriers on the list barely meets the definition of a carrier, and is in fact the least capable here! This three ship class of 12,700-tonne landing platform dock (LPD) carriers can hale 8 helicopters on each of their flight decks, as well as two Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) military hovercraft and 10 main battle tanks each. Their size (at 178 metres) and tonnage are more in line with a World War II escort carrier than a modern fleet carrier such as Liaoning. The class was developed as a political work around to the idea of Japan owning an aircraft carrier.
Japanse Maritime Self-Defence Force – Hyūga-class defence light carrier
This carrier is far more capable than Ōsumi, being more of a light carrier than an escort carrier. Like Ōsumi, Hyūga was developed to not tread on certain political terms. Hence the official designation of ‘helicopter destroyer’. This is due to Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, in which the state formally renounced the sovereign right of belligerency. Their armed forces must be defensive in nature, and aircraft carriers are generally seen as offensive tools. I coined the term “defence light carrier” or ‘DCVL’ for Japanese ships such as these two 197-metre, 17,240-tonne helicopter carriers. They are slated for 18 aircraft maximum of a mixed airwing of helicopters.
Japanse Maritime Self-Defence Force – Izumo-class defence light carrier
Larger cousin to Hyūga, Izumo is a 248-metre, 24,490-tonne carrier that is approaching the size of true fleet carriers. Izumo has the potential to support up to 28 aircraft, a marked increase from the smaller DCVLs. She will also have two class members, one is commissioned and the other is due for commissioning this month. Izumo is indeed the largest warship in Japan’s fleet since World War II.
Republic of Korea Navy – Dokdo-class landing platform helicopter carrier
Another amphibious carrier, Dokdo is similar to Ōsumi in capability, carrying ten helicopters, two LCAC hovercraft and seven assault amphibious vehicles (AAV). 200 vehicles can be carried in total. She is said to be able to operate the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II aircraft in the near future, potentially making Dokdo the most modern offensive carrier in this list. Her size at 199 metres and 17,100 tonnes will limit their potency. Still, Dokdo is represents a step in South Korea’s goal of obtaining a blue-water naval force. Originally three ships were planned for construction, but only two (including Dokdo herself) will make it into service.
Royal Thai Navy – HTMS Chakri Naruebet light carrier
Essentially a scaled-down Príncipe de Asturias design from the Spanish Navy, HTMS Chakri Naruebet is the second ship to spawn from the US Navy’s Sea Control Ship concept. At 183 metres and 10,420 tonnes, she is a small offensive carrier than now lacks any offensive aircraft due to the retirement of Thailand’s AV-8S Matador aircraft. Her original airwing was nine Matadors, six SH-60 Seahawk helicopters and up to four MH-60S Knighthawk helicopters. The ship is said to serve as an oversized royal yacht in recent years.
So, we have met carriers on the block that are not Chinese. All eleven of them. But as you can see, INS Vikramaditya is the only viable carrier than can compare to the likes of Liaoning. However, the point I want to make is that more than a few of these carriers can be made to do more.
First focusing on Japan, they have seven of the eleven carriers mentioned here. Three of the smaller Ōsumi LPDs cannot really compete with the capability provided by actual fleet carriers no matter what, but the four larger DCVLs could possibly support STOVL aircraft (think F-35B Lightning II). The reason why they haven’t got them already is the same reason why the carriers themselves are not technically labelled as carriers by Japan. But desperate times call for desperate measures, so if the event of a hypothetical war between China and Japan, STOVL aircraft could be a defensive fall-back option. Bad to the LPDs, their flight decks are likely too-short to support even STOVL aircraft, but their current helicopter-supporting capabilities can be utilised in other fields.
This leads us to South Korea and it’s two LPHs. Like Japan’s LPDs, the two Dokdos can also be used in present condition for non-strike operations. Remember, a carrier does not operate by itself, requiring a supporting fleet to escort the carrier to and from the theatre of combat.