MOSCOW - The Chinese government has decided to sell its first and only aircraft carrier to Pakistan. More specifically, the Liaoning will be sold to Pakistan for a yet-undetermined price in order to upgrade the Pakistani Navy’s capabilities, reported Chinese and Russia media on Saturday.
The addition of an aircraft carrier to the Pakistani Navy’s arsenal will make it more competitive with respect to its rival India, which has an operational aircraft carrier.
The Liaoning was first commissioned for the Soviet Navy in the 1980s and was expected to enter service in the early 1990s. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, however, frustrated these plans, and the unfinished structure was sold to Ukraine. The hull ended up in China , which rebuilt and recommissioned the ship and declared it operational only three years ago, in 2016.
The Chinese Navy plans to replace the Liaoning with up to six nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. The Chinese government announced its plans to have six carrier battlegroups by 2035. Aside from being potent machines of naval warfare, aircraft carriers serve as the ideal foreign policy tools. For example, just the appearance of an American aircraft carrier close to the shores of a country could deter actions hostile to US interests.
“China’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are expected to join the navy by 2035, bringing the total number of carriers to at least six—although only four will work at the front line. The country needs to keep developing until it is at the same level as the United States,” said Wang Yunfei, a former Chinese naval officer.
According to Russia’s state-owned RT.com, new nuclear aircraft carriers and state-of-the-art carrier-borne fighter jets will join China’s revamped navy by 2035, Chinese specialists familiar with the programme told the South China Morning Post.
The experts added that the carriers will also come equipped with electromagnetic catapults similar to the EMALS system used on their US counterparts. This will allow fighters to be launched faster than they were on older diesel-powered vessels.
At present, the Chinese Navy operates only one diesel-powered aircraft carrier, the ‘Liaoning.’ Commissioned in 2012. Currently serving as a training vessel for aircraft carrier crew, it’s been reported that the ‘Liaoning’ will be resold to Pakistan after a “large-scale upgrade.” It aims to help Pakistan “compete” with India’s own carrier buildup.
China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, is still undergoing sea trials, but is expected to enter service in April ahead of the Navy’s 70th anniversary in October.
The US Navy, by comparison, boasts 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, and has nine other amphibious ships that could be utilized as carrier vessels in a time of war.
However, Chinese military planners are eagerly racing to close the gap and money is seemingly no object, even as the ongoing trade war with the US is hurting both economies.
Wang Yunfei told the SCMP “Even if the economic downturn has an effect, we can adjust proportions in total military expenditure to make sure naval modernization keeps going.”
Cash is also being poured into designs for a new carrier-borne stealth fighter, the fighting capability of which Wang believes may only be “a little bit behind” that of the costly US F-35.
Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator, said Chinese technology would soon be on par with US fighters and carriers, but warned that superior hardware was only “part of the picture.”
He explained that crew training and damage-control readiness have been lacking in the past because Chinese troops have not “had as much real combat experience as the Americans.”
The report comes as tensions between the US and Beijing continue to simmer over influence in the South China Sea.
In January, the US Navy sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait on what it called a freedom of navigation exercise.