China’s newly commissioned aircraft carrier may be a cousin of Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov from the Soviet-era Project 1143.5 (i.e. the Kuznetsov class), but it includes a series of important upgrades which may make it vastly superior, Popular Mechanics believes.
“The PLAN spent several years studying and then upgrading the carrier to modern standards,” PM notes, adding that the Chinese navy has used the Liaoning as a training vessel for carrier-based naval aviation.
The Admiral Kuznetsov, the Russian Navy’s only remaining aircraft carrier, has roughly the same size and speed characteristics as the Liaoning (a 43,000 tonne displacement and a length of 305 meters, with both ships powered by steam turbines, and having an endurance of 45 days, with China’s carrier enjoying a slight range on maximum speed and range). Both ships also feature the same ski-slope style launch platform.
In terms of armament, the vessels are somewhat different, perhaps accounted for by differences in Russia and China’s naval doctrines, with the Liaoning armed with three anti-aircraft missile cell platforms and three sets of close-in defence systems, compared to the Kuznetsov’s more significant complement of anti-submarine warfare rocket launchers, Kinzhal anti-aircraft missiles, Granit anti-ship cruise missiles, eight Kashtan close-in guns and 6 AK-630 close-range anti-aircraft guns.
The Shandong, then, is an upgrade on the Project 1143.5 Kuznetsov-class (itself an upgrade to the Project 1143 Krechet class of helicopter and VTOL aircraft carriers first designed back in the 1960s). The Shandong also has the distinction of being the first Chinese aircraft carrier to be built from scratch by Chinese shipbuilders, with its modified design known as the ‘Type 002’.
But the Shandong has an edge over its Liaoning older brother, PM points out. “Shandong is externally similar to Liaoning, with the obvious difference of new phased array radars and slightly different shaping on the island superstructure. Internally, Chinese sources claim, the ship is capable of handling up to 36 fighter jets, 12 more than Liaoning,” the magazine explains.
China Navy Type 002 Aircraft Carrier Standard Configuration:— 龙龑之 (@Loongnaval) 27 августа 2019 г.
24 J-15 Fighter
3 J-15D EW Fighter
6 Z-18F ASW Helicopter
4 Z-18Y AEW&C Helicopter
2 Z-18A VIP Transport Helicopter
1 Z-8JH Medical Helicopter
2 Z-9S Rescue Helicopter pic.twitter.com/vsb0Rg4JMY
Furthermore, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank’s China Power Project, the Shandong’s smaller island allows for more deck space, the vessel has an overall displacement of 47,000 tonnes (about 4,000 tonnes more than its predecessor), a length of 315 meters, and a ski-jump inclination of 12 degrees (compared to 14 degrees for the Liaoning).
Popular Mechanics goes out of its way to point out that by several key parameters, US carriers are still superior, including thanks to their larger standard air wings, as well as the capability to carry airborne early warning and command and control aircraft, a “critical capability” which both the Shandong and Liaoning (and the Admiral Kuznetsov, for that matter) lack.
What the magazine doesn’t mention, however, is that Chinese and Russian naval doctrine doesn’t require the fielding of a massive fleet of dozens of multi-billion dollar aircraft carriers for missions all across the globe.
China’s main priority, for the moment, is to secure its maritime borders in the East and South China Seas, and for this purpose, China plans to create a total of six carrier battle groups.
As for Russia, the country’s naval doctrine is focused more on the creation of warships and submarines with the capability to fire both anti-ship and Kalibr land-attack cruise missiles like the ones used against the terrorists in Syria in recent years, thereby giving the Russian Navy a more nimble and, crucially, cheaper deterrent option. Meanwhile, the Admiral Kuznetsov suffered a major fire last week during repair work, killing one soldier from the Northern Fleet and injuring ten others.