Friday, January 24, 2014

China Building Additional Aircraft Carriers

According to several Chinese media reports, Wang Min, the Communist Party leader of the province Liaoning stated that the port city of Dalian in his province is now building an aircraft carrier for the Chinese Navy with at least two more being planned.

Dalian is the place where the former Varyag or Liaoning, currently China's only aircraft carrier, was refurbished after being bought from the Ukraine. The shipyard is also in the process of building two Type 052D destroyers to become the second shipyard to build the type, next to Shanghai where four Type 052D destroyers are under construction or fitting out.

While the reports are officially unconfirmed, there can be no doubt that China will eventually have additional aircraft carriers next to the Liaoning. China has already developed its own J-15 aircraft, which is roughly similar to an improved Su-33, for service on carriers, not to mention other supporting infrastructure on land.

That kind of heavy investments would not have been made if there was no intent to build their own aircraft carriers. What remains to be seen are in the details, such as how many aircraft carriers are to be build by China, the time schedule for inducting them into service and their exact configuration.

STOBAR vs CATOBAR comparison

The Liaoning is a STOBAR carrier with a ski-jump and the next carrier being build is almost certain to retain this configuration. There will probably be some minor improvements such as increasing deck space and hangar space, but the new carrier will retain the basic hull configuration to avoid potential difficulties.

STOBAR carriers with their ski-jump are often criticized for their alleged inferior performance by some people who prefer CATOBAR carriers that use a catapult to launch aircraft instead of a ski-jump. This criticism is very often exaggerated in mainstream media.

For instance, it's often stated that a ski-jump restricts the take-off weight of aircraft to such an extent that it reduces aircraft such as the Su-33 / J-15 to air-to-air missions only due to their inability to take off with heavy ordnance that is often required for air-to-ground missions.

However, extensive testing by the Russians aboard the Varyag's sister ship, the Admiral Kuznetsov, has proven that the Su-33 is able to take off at up to 30 tons under certain conditions. This is more than enough to carry sufficient payload to carry out air-to-surface missions.

Both the ski-jump and the catapult are solutions to the same problem. Neither existed when aircraft carriers came of age during World War II. They became a necessity only after jet fighters were stationed aboard aircraft carriers. Both require that aircraft be explicitly designed for either type.

The catapult in general is the better solution because the ski-jump requires a longer deck than a catapult for similar aircraft. To compensate, an aircraft carrier would have to be made longer if a ski-jump were to be selected instead of a catapult.

Due to the fixed size of aircraft carriers which tend to have a length of 300 m more or less, it's not possible to have a sufficiently long deck to equal the performance of a catapult on a carrier.

However, the ski-jump is still adequate and can be used aboard an aircraft carrier. The catapult does offer significant advantages over the ski-jump, such as:
  • Greater take-off weight using an equivalent take-off run
  • Shorter take-off run, all else being equal
  • Frees up deck space to park aircraft
On the other hand, the ski-jump has its own advantages, which are often times not mentioned at all in contrast to the advantages offered by catapults, such as:
  • The ski-jump requires no maintenance and cannot break down, unlike a catapult which would severely hamper operations during combat. This can be especially true in certain climatic conditions.
  • A catapult puts severe stress on aircraft, which over time will significantly reduce the lifespan of an airframe. A STOBAR aircraft will last longer than CATOBAR aircraft, all else being equal.
One alternative configuration that's been floated is to use both a ski-jump at the bow and one or two catapults at the waist. The thinking is that the fighters would utilize the ski-jump, while other aircraft that require maximum take-off weight, such as AEW aircraft, would use the catapults.

Credit original poster, via Chinese Internet

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