The commissioning into service of China’s first domestically constructed aircraft carrier on the 17th of December 2019 marked a momentous paradigm shift, not only in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN’s) strategic philosophy, but it also introduced a new and important participant into the areas of carrier construction and operation.

This article was submitted to the UK Defence Journal by Kelvin Curnow. Kelvin’s particular area of interest is naval aircraft and aircraft carriers. He is a keen writer and over the past fifteen years he has had a number of articles published in different journals.

No longer was the West the primary proponent of aircraft carrier aviation, the launching of the SHANDONG (CV-17) meant the reality that this pre-eminence would not go unchallenged.

In 2017 the Royal Navy’s (RN’s) commissioning of HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH (R08) and the United States Navy’s (USN’s) launching of the USS GERALD R.FORD (CVN-78) marked important developments in the areas of aircraft carrier design and construction in the West. However, it was the 2017 launch of the SHANDONG on the 26th of April which marked a significant shift in the strategic balance, despite on paper it appearing to be significantly inferior to the British and American carriers.

The USS Gerald R Ford

With the intention of the UK government to send the QUEEN ELIZABETH through the South China Sea in 2021 it is relevant not only to consider the capabilities of the SHANDONG and its air wing, but how these compare those of the British carrier.


The SHANDONG’s design is derived from the Kuznetsov class carrier LIAONING (Type 001) which was purchased as a hulk from Ukraine in 1995, refurbished and commissioned into service with the PLAN on 25 September, 2012. The LIAONING (CV 16) was laid down on 6 December 1985 at Shipyard 444 in Mykolaiv Ukraine, the only shipyard in the former Soviet Union which had built aircraft carriers including the four Kiev and the two Kuznetsov class.

Incredibly the story of the LIAONING began with an ex-PLA basketball star, Xu Zengping, who sealed the sale for what would become China’s first carrier. On March 19, 1998, Xu Zengping, in an open auction, outbid rivals from the US, Australia, South Korea and Japan. Secured for a knock down price of USD$20M the deal crucially included the sale of 40 tonnes of blueprints.

Chinese Carrier Liaoning.

This would have significant ramifications. It gave China access to the blueprints used for completion of the LIAONING (ex VARYAG), and crucially plans to permit design and construction of the SHANDONG, obviating the need to undertake the drawn out process of reverse engineering key components. Aided by access to these technical drawings China’s development and deployment of aircraft carriers has been spectacular. In November 2016, less than four years after it was commissioned, LIAONING and her air wing were considered fully operational and ready for combat.

Just eighteen months later, on the 13 May 2018 the SHANDONG left a port outside the Dalian Shipyard for its first sea trial, signalling that China had completed its first domestically produced aircraft carrier in stunning rapidity.

While superficially similar to the LIAONING, the SHANDONG is very different in concept. Both the ADMIRAL KUZNETSOV and LIAONING suffer from the misconception that the Kuznetsov class was built to operate as an aircraft carrier, as understood by Western navies. Russia describes the KUZNETSOV  as a Tyazholiy Avianesushchiy Kreyser (TAKR or TAVKR) – ‘heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser’, and that is exactly what she is, relying on her missile armament for her main means of attack and defence, together with a small complement of fighters to provide a further layer of self-defence.

Image of the Russian Warship the Admiral Kuznetsov.
HMS St Albans was joined by three Royal Air Force Typhoon jets while they sailed next to the Russian Aircraft Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and the Nuclear powered guided missile cruiser Petr Velikiy.
Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, said:
“We are keeping a close eye on the Admiral Kuznetsov as it skulks back to Russia; a ship of shame whose mission has only extended the suffering of the Syrian people.
“We are man-marking these vessels every step of the way around the UK as part of our steadfast commitment to keep Britain safe.”

The Chinese comprehend it differently and follow the doctrine and operating procedures of Western navies which consider the aircraft carried as the primary means of both attack and defence. Hence, in the LIAONING the silos for the twelve P-700 Granit (SS-N-19 Shipwreck) anti-ship surface-to-surface missiles located below the forward flight deck in the KUZNETSOV have been removed. This has freed up storage space for fuel or ammunition. In the SHANDONG in addition to storage for more fuel and ammunition, this area is used for additional hangar space.

Superficially similar to the LIONING the SHANDONG features both significant and minor design changes. The ship weighs about 70,000 tons full load, is 1,033 ft (315 m) long and has a beam of 246 ft (76 m) at the flight deck, which makes her approximately 4,000tons heavier and 34.5 ft (10.5 m) longer than her predecessor. There are many examples of where the Chinese have not merely copied the design of the former Soviet vessel but have refined it, each pointing to her being used as an aircraft carrier in the strict sense of the term. For example, the SHANDONGs ski jump has an angle of 12.0° instead of the 14.0° on the LIAONING.

This is an angle ideal for launching the Shenyang J-15 fighter. Together with the enlarged hangar, the island which has been made smaller by 10%, and extended on sponsons in the aft-starboard quarter, space has been freed up allowing for up to eight more aircraft and helicopters to be carried. The island includes a second glazed deck which permits the bridge and flight control areas to be separate creating greater operational efficiency. It also features a faceted upper area of four Active Electronically Scanned Arrays (AESAs) for the Type 346A S-band radar.


The most significant component of the SHANDONG’s air wing is the Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark fighter. The J-15 is a reverse-engineered copy of the Russian Sukhoi SU-33 naval fighter designed to operate from the Short Take Off Barrier Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) carriers of the Kuznetsov class. The J-15 has suffered from major problems. Referring to two crashes in April 2016 an unnamed Chinese military source told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that ‘the J-15 is a problematic aircraft – its unstable flight control system was the key factor behind the two fatal accidents two years ago’. As a result of the incidents the J-15 fleet was grounded for three months.

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The J-15.

Even though Chinese authorities have only admitted two crashes it has been reported by the same newspaper that out of a total of twenty-four jets produced four have been lost. In addition to a series of unspecified mechanical problems with the aircraft, the shortcomings of STOBAR operations has not been lost on the Chinese military press, which in 2013 articles described the Flying Sharks as ‘flopping fish’.

Despite these issues China has refined the Russian design, equipping it with weapons, radar and systems of domestic origin which are superior to that of the Sukhoi. Nevertheless, operating from a STOBAR carrier imposes severe limitations on an aircraft the size of the J-15 which at an empty weight of 38,600 lb (17,500 kg) makes it over 6,000 lb (2,722 kg) heavier than a Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet. This makes it impossible for the fighter to launch with a full fuel and weapons load. From the two bow launching positions the J-15 has an estimated maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of between 50,000 lb (22,680 kg) and 56,000 lbs (25,402 kg) depending on wind over deck. From the waist launching position the MTOW is 62,832 lb (28,500 kg). The Sina Military Network (SMN) based in Beijing reported the J-15 could operate from the carrier equipped with two YJ-83K Eagle Strike anti-ship missiles (AShMs), two short-range PL-8 air-to-air missiles (AAMs), and four 500 kg (1,100 lb) bombs.

However, carrying a weapons load exceeding 12 tons the aircraft not be flown off a ski ramp equipped carrier.

External loads are limited to two tons when the J-15 is carrying a full internal fuel load. In this configuration the J-15 can only take off from the waist launch position. Operating from the LIAONING J-15s have been seen carrying a pair of PL-12 medium-range AAMs, along with a pair of PL-8 AAMs. Other J-15s were seen carrying two YJ-83K AShMs.

In comparison to those loads carried by Boeing F/A-18, Lockheed Martin F-35C or Dassault Rafale M catapult launched carrier fighters these are very light loads. The difficulty of launching with a light fuel load is partially ameliorated by post-launch refuelling from other J-15s carrying a Shanyang centreline buddy refuelling store.

Despite the limitations imposed by STOBAR operations, the J-15 flown by a competent pilot would be a match for its western counterparts in air-to-air combat. Developments of the J-15 include the two-seat J-15S and the J-15D, an electronic warfare aircraft analogous to the EA-18G Growler. Each variant will offer additional capabilities over the baseline aircraft but will come with the additional problem of greater weight, only exacerbating the difficulty of operating these aircraft at heavy loads.

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A Kamov Ka-31.

Lacking catapults, both the LIAONING and SHANDONG rely on Changhe Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAIC) Z-18J and Kamov KA-31 helicopters to provide airborne early warning (AEW). A typical air wing of the carriers would normally consist of four Z-18J early warning helicopters, six Z-18F Sea Eagle anti-submarine helicopters and two Harbin Z-9C search and rescue (SAR) helicopters.


Signifying a important development, in mid-September 2016 the United States Naval Institute News published photographs online of a J-15 with a nose gear launch bar used for catapult launches. There are possibly four prototypes of this aircraft and these have reportedly been tested using both the steam catapult and Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) at Huangdicun Airbase in Liaoning province, northern China. Both catapult tracks are approximately 460 ft (140 m) long. (This is not the first occasion on which the PLAN has undertaken tests with catapults.

In 1985 the catapult, arresting gear and landing sight were removed from the former Majestic class carrier HMAS MELBOURNE and installed at a base in Dalian on a replica flight deck where a modified Shenyang J-8 II was used for flight tests. MELBOURNE had been sold in  February 1985 to the China United Shipbuilding Company ostensibly for scrapping.) These trials are in preparation for the service entry of the Type 003 Catapult Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) 85,000 ton aircraft carrier, probably in 2024. An image of the carrier was posted on Chinese social media service WeChat in 2018 by the No. 701 Research Institute of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC). It indicated that the carrier will be equipped with two bow and one waist catapult. PLAN sources have claimed the carrier will have EMALS rather than steam catapults. Given that the Type 003 will be conventionally powered and EMALS requires significant electrical power, usually provided via nuclear reactors, it is a significant achievement if indeed the Chinese have married the two technologies. However, development of the EMALS has been burdened by the same problems faced by the American programme. On 28 November 2019 the SCMP reported that tests of the EMALS involving the J-15 demonstrated that it had ‘failed to meet the required standard’.

An image appearing online in April 2019 showed J-15 fighters and a Xian Aircraft Corporation KJ-600 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft parked on the concrete carrier flight deck mock-up at the PLAN’s Shore Based Test Facility at Wuhan. The KJ-600, which has so far only appeared as a mock-up, is remarkably similar to the Northrop-Grumman E-2 Hawkeye, and the 1980s Soviet Yakovlev Yak-44 which also only appeared in model form.

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The KJ-600.

It may be assumed that the KJ-600 relies on technology transferred from the Yakovlev design bureau. Although there is no hard evidence to support this assumption, there are ample examples of China acquiring Russian technological support to design and build its own aircraft, the CAIC Z-10 attack helicopter being a prime instance. Speculatively the KJ-600 weighs approximately 60,000 lbs which puts it in the same ballpark as the Hawkeye.

Unlike the E-2D which is equipped with the APY-9 radar featuring an active electronically scanned array, which adds electronic scanning to the mechanical rotation of the radar, the KJ-600 is depicted variously with either two or three phased arrays on a fixed radome. The KJ-600 will provide a quantum leap in capability over the AEW helicopters carried by both the LIAONING and SHANDONG if put into production.

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An E-2D.

Speculation has long surrounded the future of the J-15 which has been a useful introduction for the PLAN into operating fighters from carriers, but it is now a dated design. In April 2018 Chinese media announced that the J-15B had been placed into production, supplanting the earlier variant. Described as a 4++ generation fighter, it will feature an increased weapons payload of up to twelve air-to-air missiles (AAMs), and compatibility with both the new PL-15 active radar-guided very long range AAM and the YJ-12 Anti-Ship Cruise Missile (ASCM). The J-15B will also probably be equipped with three dimensional thrust vectoring engines, an AESA radar and updated avionics and electronic warfare systems. In December 2019 the Australian Defence Business Review (ABDR) reported that fifteen J-15B Flying Shark fighters and its J-15D electronic warfare derivative, Z-8, Z-9 and Ka-32 helicopters would equip the SHANDONG’s air wing. This is a reasonable estimate on the part of the ABDR, however, as noted above, the difficulties of operating the very heavy J-15D from a STOBAR carrier are significant, if not prohibitive. At this point there is no hard evidence to suggest that either the J-15B or J-15D have entered series production.

The Western technical press has for some time suggested that the Flying Shark may possibly be replaced by the Shenyang J-31 Gyrfalcon fifth-generation stealth fighter, an aircraft similar in size to the F-35, hence deemed suitable for carrier operations. However, in what could only be described as an amazing announcement the SCMP, quoting an anonymous military source, declared that the Central Military Commission, the People’s Liberation Army’s top decision-making body, favoured adapting the J-20 over the J-31 for its new carriers. The Chengdu Aerospace Corporation J-20 Powerful Dragon weighs 81,600 lb (37,013 kg) MTOW which in its definitive form will be powered by two Shenyang WS-15 afterburning turbofans with 180 kN (40,000 lbf) in reheat. (The current WS-10B or AL-31FM2 turbofans powering the J-20 would not provide sufficient thrust for carrier operations.) The J-20 is approximately 66.8 ft (20.4 m) long with a wingspan of 42.4 ft (13.5 m), the SCMP noting that the length of the aircraft will need to be shortened to facilitate carrier operations.

Preliminary sketches appearing in Western media depict it with folded wings. By way of comparison the J-15 has a MTOW of 62,832 lb (28,500 kg), is 71 ft 10 in (21.9 m) in length and has wingspan of 48 ft 3 in (14.7 m). Weight alone would make operations from a STOBAR carrier marginal, if not prohibitive. Rather than shortening the length of the aircraft, an odd statement by the SCMP given that the J-20 is not as long as the J-15, a weight reduction exercise would prove of more benefit. Moreover, the task of modifying the J-20 for carrier operations would be very difficult. Necessary modifications would need to be made to the undercarriage, the control laws for the fly by wire (FBW) system would need to be rewritten, the wing flaps would need revision, high lift devices may need to be added and the addition of thrust vectoring nozzles may also be required.

The J-20 has a maximum speed of Mach 2+ speed and an estimated range of 6,000 km (3,700 mi, 3,200 nmi) with full fuel load. These are significant numbers and signal that the PLAN is serious in maximising the potential of its future CATOBAR equipped aircraft carriers. On pure statistics the J-20 will far outstrip the kinetic performance parameters of the F-35C and F-35B, Hornet and Rafale. Given equivalence in pilot proficiency, with better stealth characteristics the J-20 should prove superior to F/A-18s and Rafale in overall performance. However, against F-35s which have a lower radar cross section (RCS) of 0.001 m2 as opposed to 0.25 m2 for the J-20, the balance would swing very much in the Lightning’s favour mainly because the detection range of the J-20’s Type 1475 (KLJ-5) AESA radar would be considerably inhibited. Detecting a J-20 using its AN/APG-81 AESA radar and AN/AAQ-37 Electro-optical Distributed Aperture System (DAS) before being identified by the Chinese fighter’s sensors, and armed with MBDA Meteor AAMs, the RN’s F-35Bs would have a significant advantage, with the high prospect of a ‘first-look, first-shot’ hence high kill probability (Pk).

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The J-20

Should the long-range shot miss and the two fighters join in the merge the outcome would depend on manoeuvrability, sensors, weapons and pilot skill. Despite the F-35’s poor reputation as a dogfighter, a reported kill ratio 20:1 in a 2017 Red Flag exercise suggests that this is far from the truth and against any aircraft other than the F-22, and probably the Typhoon, it would have an advantage in air-to-air combat. These kill ratio figures come amidst the ongoing criticism of the F-35’s poor thrust-to-weight ratio and overall performance figures. However, these ‘kills’ were against fourth generation fights such as the F-16 and F-15 which are claimed by the F-35’s critics to be superior dogfighters. Against a J-20 the F-35 will possess superior situational awareness providing a further advantage to its pilot. At 50% fuel the F-35 has a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.07 which would be proximate to that of the J-20 powered by WS-15s, and superior to the J-20 if it was powered by its current lower thrust engines.


A comparison of the SHANDONG with the Queen Elizabeth class (QEC) carriers demonstrates that there are some similarities between the types, but more dissimilarities. Both feature ski ramps, however the SHANDONG is very much a compromise design configured for STOBAR operation of J-15 aircraft, itself derived from a land-based design which in itself is not the most optimal aircraft for carrier based operations. The QEC have a displacement of 65,000 tonnes, a length of 932 ft (284 m) and a beam of 128 ft (39 m) (waterline) and 240 ft (73 m) overall which makes them approximately the same size and weight of the SHANDONG. The QEC are able to carry an air wing of forty aircraft, the SHANDONG’s maximum complement being forty-four J-15s and helicopters.

F-35Bs on HMS Queen Elizabeth.

This is a nominal figure given the configuration of the SHANDONG’s flight deck and the dimensions of the J-15, the actual figure is in all probability much less. The British carriers in comparison can carry a maximum of seventy aircraft in overload facilitated by possessing more than 19,500 m2 of flight deck as opposed to approximately 15,000 m2 for the SHANDONG.

The SHANDONG and LIAONING will share between them only twenty J-15s unless manufacture of the aircraft is restarted. Moreover, the full-width ski ramp of the Chinese carriers prevents any aircraft being parked forward as in American, French, Italian and British carriers. Forward of the island are the hold-backs and blast deflectors for two J-15s permitting launch in rapid succession, although moving more fighters forward and then flying them off the deck is considerably slowed by the inefficient launch process. As witnessed in the recent Westlant 19 deployment the single offset ski ramp on QUEEN ELIZABETH permitted aircraft to be parked forward. Moreover, the efficient operation of the Short Take-Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) F-35B from the carrier demonstrated comprehensibly the superiority of a ship designed specifically for operating this version of the Lightning.

F-35Bs on HMS Queen Elizabeth.

In addition the F-35B is not a compromise design, unlike the J-15 it was designed from the outset for STOVL operations from aircraft carriers and amphibious landing ships.

The F-35B has demonstrated it can be launched from the QEC in ‘beast mode’ with a weapon load comprising two MBDA ASRAAM missiles, four Raytheon AIM-120 AAMs and four Raytheon Paveway IV guided bombs. The fuel load is unknown, but there is a high possibility that the aircraft can be launched in this configuration carrying full internal fuel depending on such factors as length of the take-off run and wind over deck. It is certainly Lockheed Martin’s intention that the F-35B can operate off a ski ramp equipped carrier at MTOW and successful tests were undertaken using the ramp at NAS Patuxent River validating the concept finishing mid 2016. Employing Short Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) the aircraft would also have a high bring back load, but the conditions in which this technique can be used remains open to question.

Two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers.

At this point in time the UK has committed to buy forty-eight F-35Bs while maintain it still intends to order a total of one hundred and thirty-eight aircraft. With the projected long F-35 production run Britain can build up its numbers of aircraft over time. In contrast the J-15 is now out of production and the J-20 could prove prohibitively expensive to produce in large numbers. Taking into account all the factors a head-to-head comparison shows that the QEC and its air wing of F-35Bs is superior to China’s STOBAR aircraft carriers, with judgement reserved with respect to the Type 003.


The rapid and dramatic transition of the PLAN from a brown-water to a blue-water navy has considerable implications for the UK. China’s growth as a naval power should be seen in the context of her desire to impose hegemony inside the nine dash line, a nominal boundary within which the Chinese government wants to exercise sovereignty and control over all of the features contained within it, on the land, in the water, and on the seabed. The South China Sea occupies most of the area within this line. Chinese claims within the boundary have led to armed confrontation, notably with Vietnam and the Philippines which together which with denial of freedom of navigation (FON) signals that China is absolutely serious in pursuing its claims, legitimate or otherwise. China is also seeking to expand its economic power through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by developing infrastructure within China, across Europe, Asia, states in Eastern Africa and throughout the Indian-Pacific region.

Growing Chinese assertiveness, together with an increasingly belligerent Russia and the unresolved conflict with militant Islam means that the US, the UK and their allies could possibly be faced with multiple contiguous threats. In the worst possible scenario Western forces may be confronted by belligerent actions short of all-out war in the Baltic Sea, the South China Sea and the Strait of Hormuz. The USN would find it difficult, if not impossible, to confront major naval actions by Russia, China and a Middle-Eastern country simultaneously. At the core of any response would be a USN Carrier Battle Group (CBG) however, there would be insufficient resources available to respond to these three scenarios. In this instance the US would look to both the RN and Marine Nationale (MN – French Navy) to provide carriers to supplement or even supplant US carriers.


Given the huge technological and qualitative advances the PLAN has made, particularly over the past decade, China can no longer be regarded as an irrelevant brown-water navy. The launch and subsequent operational deployment of the LIAONING signalled that Beijing had serious aspirations to become a naval power and to match the USN in the Indian-Pacific region at least. The SHANDONG and the Type 055D destroyers are further signs of this intention. Even though the Type 003 will mark a step change in capability it cannot be ignored that the SHANDONG is the most significant factor so far in securing the future of Chinese aircraft carrier construction, and her growing naval airpower.

These realities, and given the current strategic environment, together with the UK government’s desire to project a ‘Global Britain’ post-Brexit it could do well to prepare an adequate response to protect her own assets and those of her allies, committing not only to carrier aviation but to an expanded RN. It is only by doing so that the UK will be able to keep open sea lanes and choke points which moving beyond Europe are now vital to her trade with the world.

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The analysis of this ship and it’s planes seems at odds with the conclusions.

Geoffrey Roach

Hi Trevor Maybe, but I think Kelvin’s point ( ? ) is that the PLAN have intentions to become blue water but are lacking full equipment capabilities and perhaps the confidence in what they have managed to bring forward so far. This doesn’t mean they’ll give up.


Indeed it’s looking forward 5 to 10 years.

Daniele Mandelli

“Just a big target”

It works both ways.

But in all seriousness, we should be prioritising the RN, RAF, and the Intelligence community in the SDSR.

Steve R

Especially given Ben Wallace’s comments today on having to rethink our strategies and not relying on being alongside the US in all conflicts.

I’d like to think that some extra cash might be found for defence. Wishful thinking, probably.


From what has been reported in the FT Telegraph and Times the Uk Government seems to be about to embark on another Treasury Driven hack and slash defence review, in terms of our conventional capability’s. Certainly the two Aircraft Carriers are in the firing line, so I fear we will, as usual , see a series of mindless cuts rather then investment.

Mike Saul

I bet the PRC would love the F35B for their carriers.


Have the Chinese ever created a weapon system on their own without stealing someone else’s tech??


Pretty sure they invented the crossbow.

Steve R

They invented gunpowder. Nothing since then, though!

The Big Man

And the rest of the world keeps giving them the tech to reverse engineer.
When will we wake up!!!!


That’s partly the reason for Trump’s trade war with a China. For a foreign company to manufacture in China they have to partner with a local company and share intellectual property rights. That’s a major source of their IP harvesting.

John Clark

The Chinese have made enoumous strides in their domestic defence technology Dan. They are in a unique position in the world as both an authoritarian regime and a very successful economy. It means the money and will is there to ‘make’ it happen. Take the J20, it’s flawed yes, but if it was a Western design, it wouldn’t even be near first flight yet! The Chinese have them in service, they have learned the lessons of the J20 and you can bet the next much improved generation is already designed and probably under construction. The rate of Chinese technical advancement… Read more »


They have lauched rockets into space, they have their own space station, they are making progress in quantum computers, advanced radars, 5g networks etc…. They are not as simple as you think. In fact many components in western high tech equipment is made in China like computer chips, motherboards etc… If we went to war with China this would become a problem since a lot of western manufacturing has been outsourced to China


There’s also the trebuchet(the Arabs or Persians added the counterweight), but we wrote off the Japanese similarly before WW2 & were nastily surprised when they kicked our butts.

Never under estimate youir enemies, especially when at the extreme end of decades of perversely cutting defence capabilities.


They copied American, Russian and British Technology
Which was, in turn, copied from British and German Technology


At a time that the world’s premier operator of carriers seems to be stepping back from the type going into the future, the PLAN seems to be emulating what they perceive is a requirement to be a “Great Power”. They look around them and copy what current first tier militaries operate and then emulate that even though the concept may already be in eclipse. Very similar in many ways to Imperial Japan on the eve of WWII although the IJN had embraced aircraft carriers before the USN was forced to after Pearl Harbor.



The US is not “stepping back” from the aircraft carrier. The evidence is quite the opposite. The US has three Ford class carriers either launched or being constructed and has provided funding for a fourth. Some step back.


As I replied before, “only time will tell”…


Barry Larking

Interesting article, one that demands serious attention. However, politics, economics and geography are more significant than technology in projecting military power; it helps but it is not all of defence. China’s rise in the maritime sphere has seemingly been cost-free in diplomatic terms as far as China sees matters. She may do as she wishes she seems to think. Perhaps not. We may soon see countries coming together in mutual support unimagined only a few years ago: U.S. bases in South East Asia? Impossible? Do not place this development out of court. A swathe of countries will have to decide… Read more »


Your last sentence hits the nail on the head Barry. No matter what anyone anywhere says of their political and social order, be they master or average Joe, NO ONE ever attempted to cross out of West Berlin to the East or from South to North Korea or from Europe to Africa in a small boat! As to the PLAN’s Shandong, it seems to me that they have taken a hugely flawed design and at great expense produced a greatly inferior carrier equipped with aircraft totally unsuitable to task and significantly compromised in performance-all at great expense! It would have… Read more »


It’s a testimony to aircraft carrier alliance and British industry how easily we were able to build both QEC carriers so quickly and at relativity small cost after no attempting to build such vessels for 50 years, when one looks at how Long China has taken to simply make some knock off 1970’s Russian carriers. The mind boggles why the Torys are obsessed with getting rid of one or both of these ships. They are worth more than the rest of the MOD combined. It’s sickening that every year without fail some high placed Tory minister and MOD officials float… Read more »


Source for your “Torys are obsessed with getting rid of one or both of these ships”? Or are you spinning political rhetoric?


Mr Cummings is the man put in charge of defence procurement by the Prime Minister. He’s made his position known. “I wrote in 2004 about the farce of the UK aircraft carrier procurement story (and many others have warned similarly). Regardless of elections, the farce has continued to squander billions of pounds, enriching some of the worst corporate looters and corrupting public life via the revolving door of officials/lobbyists. Scrutiny by our MPs has been contemptible. They have built platforms that already cannot be sent to a serious war against a serious enemy. A teenager will be able to deploy… Read more »


Source is history, 1981 Torys scrap carriers, 2010 Torys scrap all carriers now Troys initiative defence review on the basis of Carriers are a farce and a waste of money.

Could you please provide me with any evidence where the Torys were a friend to aircraft carriers?

Since 2010 it’s been an annual headline in Tory press that the carriers are to be scrapped or sold.

France does not have an annual headline on scrapping CDG

Nor does the USA or anyone else that has them.


Source is your blinkered Momentum based view of reality, you mean… 1980’s – we got the Invincible class, we would we keep the ones they replaced? 2010 – after Labour splurges all the cash the Coalition looked at cancelling them. Thankfully the contracts were watertight and although their original plan was to mothball one, in 2014 they announced both would be operational. The procurement of the carriers has been a farce. Their build was stretched out to reduce annual spending but with the result the overall price went up. Another brilliant idea from the Treasury. And because Blair wanted these… Read more »


”It’s so disengenuous, you hate the Torys and the so-called ‘Tory press’ yet you quote and reference them for your arguments. That’s kinda schizo 😆“

His argument was partly against the Tory press though, so in what other way can you back up an argument against what the Tory press are saying other than quoting them



I never said I hate the Torys (hate them as much as labour anyway) I’m just pointing out facts that Torys are often uncomfortable with. The fact is the Torys have been the party to cut more off defence than anyone. The last time they increased the defence budgets was 1937.


Well he quotes the so-called “Tory press” as proof of his case, yet he will undoubtedly dismiss what they report as “Tory lies”.
Fact is there’s no “Tory press”, the Conservative Party don’t control any newspapers. And even those with a centre-right bias will outside of election season, post stories that are embarrassing or that undermine a Conservative Press.
(The same is true for the “Socialist Press”; Guardian, Mirror, Independent, Morning Star, etc.)

And surely you naive souls know not to believe everything you read in the press?!? 😆


Sorry Sean but I got nothing to do with the Labour Party and hate momentum. Knox had invincible sold to Australia and Hermes in the scrap yard following his review if it had not been for the FI then the UK would not even have had the invincible’s which are really helicopter cruisers anyway. The Torys are always obsessed with cutting stuff and will generally cut what ever is politically easiest that’s why Bojo and Cummings already have the QE’s in their sights. 6 billion for two super carriers is a bargain but now Cummings is calling it a farce… Read more »


You may not be a card carrying member, but the fact that you use the abusive term “Tory” shows your political stance – that term wouldn’t be used by someone in the right. I have no argument, Knox was a twat. But then the first term Thatcher government inherited a country that had almost been bankrupted by the previous Labour administrations. If Labour didn’t keep spending all the money and getting the country into deep debt everytime it got into office, the Conservatives wouldn’t have to make cutbacks whenever they regained power. Bojo and Cummings haven’t got the the QEs… Read more »


Tory is not a term of abuse. In the same way communist is not a term of abuse.


Yes it’s is. You will never hear members of the Conservative Party use that term about themselves or the party. In fact, if you knew political history you’d know that the Tory Party became defunct over a hundred years ago.
But I guess it’s easier for Labour supporters to spit the term “Tory” as a form of abusive as it’s monosyllabic so it’s not too intellectually taxing.


Actually many members of the Conservative party self identify as Tories. It did not become defunct it merged.


Completely wrong on both counts, but then you seem to have made it a habit of being wrong 😆


Lol you may want to look at the history of the Conservative party……..


when did Tory become abusive? That’s what they are.


Don’t you find it embarrassing making such such hilariously inaccurate statements publicly. The Conservatives have never been the Tory Party, doing so is as ridiculous as calling the Liberals the Whigs or Roundhead party. 🤣

The term only gets used because when those on the left invariably lose any logical arguments they resort to name calling, and ‘Tory’, ‘Fascist’ etc are the terms they usually throw.


Stop being such a political snowflake, Tory and fascist are completely different and since when have a few people taking a word and throwing it around as an insult defined everyone’s complete understanding of a word ( I will use the word gay as an example, when you own the word it removes the power of the insult). Going to the formation of the consecutive and unionist party as we know it, I has a long history complex history or merging and spilling groups, but a couple of areas I like to think around: The Modern party (I think) can… Read more »


Slight difference to 1981 and 2010 in 2020 we have not had 5+ years of labour trying to bankrupt the nation.


That’s the argument already used but those carriers cost 60 million a year to run so seriously what difference cutting them does it make to the national debt. Osbourne was hell bent on getting government spending to 36% but unwilling to to cut health or any big budgets. Why put trident renewal onto MOD Budget when the spending won’t happen until the 2020’s and the deficit was suppose to be gone by 2015?


But they didn’t cost 60 million a year to run, at some point one of them would need a re-fit in order for it to keep running at those costs. On top of that with time the costs to keep them afloat and in use would have spiralled. Who will cut the NHS its political suicide?

The deficit is a complicated problem that changes along with the economy and world markets, just be thankful Corbyn didn’t get in as we would have never seen a deficit like it since WW2.


What was the savings vs a 100 billion a year deficit of scrapping carriers virtually nothing. Defence is about the only budget Osbourne actually cut. That and police which is suppose to be the “conservatives” (apparently they don’t like being called Torys) strong point.

Now Bojo is looking to cut stuff and the carriers are in his sight.

Mark B

The current emphasis seems to be on getting right the procurement for future assets as the carriers are bought and paid for. The escorts need to be in good shape and properly armed quickly and there needs to be money invested in future tech. It is always important to ensure from all sides that the relationship with existing suppliers is not too cosy and is good value. Also are we not sometimes excluding new companies who might have something new to offer.

Barry Larking

It is not just about money or effective value for money or what to do with these assets. If you have spent forty years inculcating your own young people with the idea that they are born into a wicked country with a lengthy disgraceful past, one of oppressing others and robbing the world for treasure, then unsurprisingly the notion of serving said country is not going to be a priority for many. Plus we have wound down competitive sport to the point where those professionals who can compete well are largely drawn from ‘troubled’ backgrounds and therefore are used to… Read more »

Mark B

Barry – interesting points. My personal view is that the young generation today have little if any experience of war. Relative peace on this continent since the second world war has removed it as a concern for most. Whilst I am pleased with that peace as many of us would not be here otherwise, the complacency which has appeared is worrying. Having said that I still feel that the silent majority in this country take a dim view of defeatist and negative attitudes. An effective defence is expected amongst the public even if they show little day to day interest… Read more »

John Clark

Mark and Barry,

I totally agree with you both.

Unfortunately, we are our own worst enemy at times, but the election result ‘might’ just be the sign of a long awaited (and needed) reset in society.

Fortunately, it seems sensible folk are still in the majority and the glass half empty doubters are still limited in their ability to run the country down, despite their best efforts.

Nigel Collins

And finally, the penny drops!

“Britain may have to fight future conflicts without the help of the US as its key ally, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has warned.”

Mark B

The US has never been a fan of European wars hence the reason they opted (successfully) for a strategy to deter further wars after WW2.

Agreed we should not make any assumptions about the support of any country. We should make a range of alliances yet be able to stand up for ourselves.

I believe we can do that if we allocate our resources wisely and still invest in great Hospitals, Schools etc. (wow aren’t I feeling positive).


Totally agree with everything you say and I also believe that ‘DC’ was one of the worst PM’s we have had in terms of defence and our sense of national pride/resilience, its notable to me at least that the toxic notion of ‘managed decline’ seemed to made a comeback under that Prime minister, something that the Thatcher Government had appeared to have dispelled.


Totally agree, if this Gov embarks on an other demolition job on our armed forces, then I can guarantee that they will already have lost my vote, a record after barely a month in power. I just can not understand why so many ministers in parliament seem hell bent on diminishing this country’s clout on the world stage. They never seem to learn any of the lessons of history, the weaker you appear the more the bully regimes of the world target you as a pushover, particularly important for a nation such as ours that relies so heavily on free… Read more »


Your comment how true they are. Unfortunately as a rule the Tory chattering classes don’t do strategy especially military strategy ( even more so Naval strategy- see Max Hastings )because it’s so last year/war and only fit for anorak types. Well there is a shock in store if they don’t get with it if USA goes as isolationist and/or as libtard as it very well might. Just look at 1981 and John Nott for precedent and sorry to say Carrington who as an ex Navy Minister should have known better. Oh dear please not again! The last Conservative who more… Read more »

John Clark

The Royal Navy has to be front and center in the next SDSR, the money has to raised and spent rebuilding the RN after decades of neglect.


Interesting that the Chinese never opted to continue their COGAS/COGES studies in the 1990s and develop a 45,000t CATOBAR carrier with steam catapults. While smaller, that would have provided a more efficient ship than the Liaoniang and Shandong ships, and easier to move to EMALS ops down the line. But presumably it was felt to be easier to copy the Russian method, and perhaps they – like the USN – thought EMALS tech would mature sooner.


“Interesting that the Chinese never opted to continue their COGAS/COGES studies in the 1990s and develop a 45,000t CATOBAR carrier with steam catapults. ” That was because during the 90’s the hierarchy of the PLA that the PLAN was still very subservient to at the time was deep into a discussion about what direction investment and fleet development should go. Should they remain a largely brown water coastal force or should they become a blue water one with the ability to project power beyond the second Island chain. On deciding to pursue a Blue water force there was a separate… Read more »


In some respects I disagree, this is based purely on them buying HMAS Melborne back in the 90’s. The Australians sold them the ship in full working order including the steam catapult. Granted the design of the ship dated back to the second world war and was meant to be scraped after 5 years of service. But the majestic class although small had all the big carrier attributes such as catapult, angled deck, landing aids, armoured deck and built to withstand battle damage. The carrier although obsolete by modern standards, would have been a major boon for the Chinese. They… Read more »


The problem is as I stated above the PLA/PLAN had not finalised a decision about going for a Carrier programme in the 90’s. They were deep into a doctrinal debate that eventually fed into a fifty year plan published in the next decade. Chinese ship building needed significant modernisation before they could even consider designing their own Aircraft Carrier, there just wasn’t the institutional knowledge in place. HMAS Melborne as a useful tool to experiment with the technologies involved but it was no way enough to allow them to fully kick off a full Carrier development programme. Purchase of a… Read more »


The acquisition of the Liaoning (ex Varyarg) should be made into a spy movie. But you could also include the slightly underhand purchase of the Melborne. Both ships helped the Chinese ship building industry and were sold for non military use. However, I am not confident on their build quality control, as the emphasis of the Party was to deliver the ships as early as possible. So how sea worthy they are is open to debate. Battle damage is another crucial area where they have very little experience in, either in design or real life experience to base their training… Read more »


Their new carrier is a copy….. their main fighter jets are Russian knock-off’s, as are the helicopters, and their proposed AEW aircraft looks suspiciously like a Hawkeye….. you’ve got to give it to them, why develop your own technology when you can just steal everyone else’s!


The Lightning may be superior to both the J-15 and any potential naval J-20 variant, but there’s a big advantage they both have over our airwing: anti ship missiles. Carrier strike may return in 2021, but given current plans the RN is going to remain with no air launched surface attack weapon until Perseus in ~2030.

Thomas Martin

Spear 3 is incoming and will be integrated in the f35 block 4 upgrade. Not likely to sink larger surface ships but ample to knock them out the fight. Especially as and f35 can carry 8 internally. 8 of those is going to seriously hurt.


Spear 3 is planned for the f35s by the mid 20s. With the numbers planned to be carried, even a single f35 will be able to saturate a target. Yes it’s a small warhead but you don’t need much to mission kill a modern warship, especially if it can target specific systems, ( Accidental hits by single ARM missiles have been known to mission kill AAW cruisers). 4 f35bs will be able to launch 64 spear 3s at a target, that’s far more likely to do the job that 8 heavy weight anti ship missiles (which are not going to… Read more »


I’ll be honest, I’d completely forgotten about SPEAR 3, and your suggestion for a saturation attack has merit. However, there are a couple of major flaws. For the sake of brevity, I’ll highlight the two biggest. Firstly, range. SPEAR 3 has a quoted range of about 130km, which is short enough that the Lightnings themselves are going to be flying into engagement range of the ship’s air defences. Compare that to even Harpoon, where aircraft can sling them from well outside engagement range (this is assuming accurate enough targeting data in both cases). Second major issue, related to range, is… Read more »


That is true around range, although the reality is that depending on ROE, altitude of approach, escape vectors and speed it’s very unlikely that: 1) a war ship will be detecting and usefully engaging a fighter ( that’s hiding) at 130km with its organic radar or AAW systems ( even a type 45 cant bend energy waveforms around the horizon) and the fighter will not be waiting around at the 130km line but will be buggering off. 2) is very unlikely any heavyweight ASM will ever get fired at anything other than ranges that will allow you to finding and… Read more »


Both fair points, however that’s assuming the targeting is being done by the attacking Lightnings. Alternative offboard targeting methods (drones or satellites for example) would make the range issue relevant again. I’m not talking about fast, high flying missiles. Perseus and comparable missiles are sea skimming as well as being high-supersonic. Realistically a lone surface ship is going to have less than 30 seconds to react to most such weapons (against a Mach 5 weapon it’s under 10 seconds). The shipping attacked during Gulf 1 was by light anti ship missiles like Sea Skua against patrol boats, corvettes, and a… Read more »

Robert blay

We have the Astute Class, probably the most effective weapon on the planet at taking out somebody else’s warships. The mear threat that one might be in the enemy’s back yard would be enough to keep most Navy’s safely in port. And the Spearfish torpedo is more like a under water cruise missile, then a conventional torpedo.


The threat of a nuclear submarine being around is obviously no joke, but they’re a scarce resource. The oceans a big place, and submarines lack the massive threat bubble and rapid response aircraft offer. There’s also the issue of most of the disputed areas being in relatively shallow waters (the Gulf and SCS), where big nuclear boats are limited.


Don’t forget the attack by the Iragi Silkworm destroyed by Sea Dart from HMS Gloucester that was aimed at the “Mighty Mo”! The Silkworm is a monster of an anti-ship missile, old yes but easily ship a modern frigate/destroyer on its own. Here’s another point of view and possibly a future scenario of a Chinese CBG based on the Shandong facing up to the Liz CBG. The Chinese like us will have a AEW helicopter aloft either a Z19J or Kamove KA31 along with a pair of J15s on CAP. For any attack the AEW helicopter will be the primary… Read more »


Of course what would really help the UK carriers strike capability is a new and credible long range anti-ship missile which can be launched from the F-35 and RN surface ships/subs. It’s all well and good being able to stealth one’s way into denied access theatres but if you can’t sink the adversaries ships then what’s the point? The Chinese navy has plenty of options in this area at present.


There is some major issues with the Chinese carriers 001 and 002. One of which is their primary armament, the J15 knock-off. The Chinese managed to buy a prototype Su27/33. This was a test and development aircraft sold to them by Ukraine and as such had the original Su27 engines the AL31s. China also copied this engine and called it the WS10. The original AL31 engine had a number of key issues, one of which was it is quite slow to accelerate. As the Chinese copied the engine they also copied this weakness. It has been partially to blame for… Read more »


India is also making progress. Their Tejas has made its first carrier landing


The Indians are talking about a Super Tejas, basically a larger and twin engined version with canards. Looks a bit like a Typhoon/Rafale cross.


A very good article – thanks. The Chinese are busily building a carrier capability which is quite impressive. You know I worry about some of the thinking in the RN. So we are going to lose Harpoon from the frigates and destroyers & have no anti-ship missile for the F35’s on the carriers. That leaves us with an anti-ship capability based upon short ranged helicopter mounted missiles, the 4.5inch Gun and iron bombs dropped from the F35. This, of course, doesn’t matter if we are using the carriers to prosecute a conflict against a third world power but if we… Read more »

Robert blay

The F35 won’t carry any dumb bombs. They are all smart weapons. The F35B will carry the Spear 3, which has a anti-ship capability. The F35 can carry 8 internally, plus another 8 under the wings when stealth isn’t required. The F35B on internal fuel still has double the range of the Harrier GR9 carry large external tanks. And far better performance.


Get your point. However even a swarm of Spear lightweight missiles isn’t going to sink a (Russian) cruiser. The F35B will need to have twice the range of the Harrier because the (Russian) cruiser will unleash a salvo of Granit or Vulcan missiles (not to mention their new hypersonic hardware) from 400 miles away. No a heavy air launched standoff missile is needed on the F35B if we are going to keep the enemy at arms reach.

Robert blay

The Spearfish torpedo could break the back of a Russian cruiser. And we are spending £270m upgrading our torpedoes. Anyway. You don’t have to sink a vessel to neutralise the threat. And I would take any talk of hypersonic missiles with a very large pinch of salt. They havent proven to anyone, to be able to actual hit anything with one. Let alone a modern western warship with sophisticated defensive aids.


You’d need to get one of our five operable subs close for a torpedo hit, good luck with that. If we are going to operate carrier battle groups they need to be able hold any possible adversary at great range through their offensive air power (the Americans know this and thus the LRASM).

Robert blay

Spearfish has a range of 80miles. One of our Astute boats would could make mince meat of any chinese vessels, otherwise what’s the point of having a fleet of £1 billion nuclear subs. Anyway, this is all very Tom Clancy stuff, China and the west has far to much to loose to enter any conflict with each other, there would have to be a massive diplomatic fall out, or a very large act of aggression for even limited military action to be considered. And as China is still only classed as a regional power, we aren’t going to see any… Read more »


You don’t have to sink a ship, it actually takes very little to mission kill a war ship.being hit by 16 spear 3s will stop any ship on the planet doing what it was planning…that’s 16 100kg projectiles hitting at significant speed, The kinetic energy alone is significant, add in 16 warheads that can be either breaching, shaped charge, or blast fragmention depending on damage needs and whatever fuel is left scattered around and burning and you have one very sick ship with 16 room sized burning holes where key compartments would have once been. Then think what 4 f35#… Read more »

Joseph R

This new Chinese aircraft carrier is such a welcome sight: large, expensive, vulnerable and of little tactical value. I hope they build more. They are a wonderful waste of money for China.

Geoffrey Roach

Remember folks..every time you buy a product with “Made in China” on it……


Mercantilism is alive and well, China has been practicing it on the west since the fall of the Soviet Union…..they realised western capitalism would always out compete communism, but that the rise of neoliberalism and the primacy of the markets meant that the west would allow itself to be destroyed if you could dominate and control key markets and that’s what China is doing. If you can produce it cheap a western nation will buy it even to the destruction of its own industries….how many time have I seen people on this site say….well if you can get it cheaper… Read more »


The main difference between the PLAN carriers & ours is that the PLAN has a large number of escorts & even if a missile or aircraft gets through, it has several layers of defensive weapons, wheras we have a tiny number of escorts & just Phalanx CIWS(not yet even fitted to the POW) & countermeasures to protect ours.

We really should protect our crews & investment better!


We buy from China. We give them foreign exchange, lots of it. – think about it.