Chinese aircraft carriers get into engine troubles

Chinese economy is booming so does it’s military industrial capability, but there is a catch. China depends on old soviet-era technology either supplied by Russia or former soviet satellite state like the Ukraine. Recently, Ukraine becomes the focus point of China as Ukraine holds a capable marine  propulsion and aircraft engine technology which China desperately needs right now.

Side by Side Soviet-era Riga and CNS Liaoning (16)

China started it’s aircraft carrier adventure through purchase of soviet-era unfinished Kuznetsov-class aircraft cruiser Riga. China produced some fake restaurant business entity who bought the ship to be used as floating restaurant later towed to Chinese Dalian naval shipyard. The article also lists the technical challenges naval engineers faced, particularly with the ship’s unfinished—and largely absent—propulsion systems.

Originally laid down in 1985 for the Soviet Navy as the Kuznetsov-class aircraft cruiser Riga, she was launched on 4 December 1988 and renamed Varyag in 1990. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, construction was halted and the ship was put up for sale by Ukraine. The stripped hulk was purchased in 1998 and towed to the Dalian naval shipyard in northeast China. The ship, built for the USSR but never completed, was towed to China where it eventually became the carrier CNS Liaoning (16).

The Type 002 carrier CNS Shangdong (17) reportedly displaces 70,000 tons, has a crew of 2,000, and will probably embark an air wing of 36 J-15 multi-role fighters, Z-9 utility helicopters, and Z-18 medium transport helicopters operating in the anti-submarine warfare and airborne early warning roles.

The CNS Shangdong (17) is fitted with type 346A S-band AESA radar, navigation systems, early warning systems, sensors and processing systems. The CNS Shangdong’s construction started in 2015 and sea trial started in 2019.  While the Type 001A retained the Liaoning’s ski-jump flight deck, at 315 metres (1,033ft) it is 10 metres longer. The new ship has a full displacement of 70,000 tonnes, compared with the Liaoning’s 58,600 tonnes.

Both ships are powered by four-shaft conventional steam turbines, although the top speed of the Type 001A is 31 knots, slower than the Liaoning’s 32. The Shandong is limited to six days at sea before refueling, which is similar to the Liaoning.

China’s first homemade aircraft carrier could be experiencing engines problems, as the ship prepares for yet another round of sea trials. The carrier, known variously at Type 001A or Type 002, is the country’s second and the largest warship ever built in China. Sea trials are designed to stress test every new part of the ship, from propulsion to sensors and weapons, and all the little things in between.

Two type 346A radar of type 055 destroyer

Having no experience building ship such a mammoth scale, china took ten years to build the Liaoning at Dalian. Both ships are of similar dimensions and use a ski ramp to launch jet aircraft into the air.

The Shandong was commissioned into the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in 2019, in Sanya on the island province of Hainan. Prior to being commissioned, the Shandong underwent nine sea trials over the course of 18 months. By comparison, the Liaoning, completed 10 sea trials in 13 months before being commissioned in September 2012. During construction and sea trials, the Shandong was known as the Type 001A; however, the December 2019 commissioning ceremony indicated that it is officially designated the Type 002.

Carrier-based aircraft typically need a rolling start, aided by a catapult or ski ramp, to get airborne, though some aircraft such as the Harrier or F-35B Joint Strike Fighter can take off vertically. The soviet-era Su-33 clone under-powered J-15 having major issues with it’s questionable thrust-to-weight ratio and reliability of home-made WS-10A engine. Due the STOBAR (Short Take-Off Barrier-Arrested Recovery), or “ski-jump” carrier, the J-15 is limited to number of air-to-air PL-12 and PL-10 missiles it can carry.

Carriers must also incorporate everything the embarked aircraft—typically known as the air wing—need for sustained operations at sea. Carriers must hold large amounts of aviation fuel and weapons, and supplies including spare aircraft engines. It must have locations to test engines, a noisy and dangerous operation, and hangar space for maintainers to store and service airplanes. Following a soviet design limits Liaoning and Shandong  capability to carry more weapons and aviation fuels which interns limits the capability of the operations of the J-15.

Liaoning’s refurbishment was a learning curve for China, though we may never know the full details of its complete makeover. A country like China with no reliable domestic aviation engines and naval propulsion, which has never built a carrier before, will naturally experience technical problems.

The future ship also features a ski-jump deck for take-offs until Chinese espionage tactics successfully steal electromagnetic catapult known as EMALs launch systems of USS Gerald R. Ford.

 CharacteristicsCNS Liaoning (16)CNS Shandong (17)
Pennant NumberCV-16CV-17
Carrier TypeType 001Type 002 (Previously Type 001A)
 Displacement 60,000 – 66,000 tons66,000 – 70,000 tons
 Ski-jump inclination14°12° (TBC)
 Airwing  18-24 J-15 fighters 17 Ka-28/Ka-31/Z-8S/Z-8JH/Z-8AEW helicopters TBD. It is expected that the Shandong will feature a slightly larger airwing than the Liaoning. An additional 4 fixed-wing aircraft or 8 helicopters is likely.
 Complement1,960 crew; 626 air groupTBD
 Armament3 × Type 1130 CIWS; 3 × HQ-10 SAM (18-Cell); 2 RBU-6000 ASW rocket launchers and flare/chaff rocket launchers TBD. Likely similar to the Liaoning
 Radar Type 346 S-band AESAType 346A S-band AESA
 PropulsionConventional steam turbines with diesel generatorsConventional steam turbines with diesel generators
 Cruising Speed29 knots31 knots (expected)

Despite all these problems, China will eventually build a fleet of three to six aircraft carriers. A force of six carriers, therefore, would mean two available ships in peacetime and four or more during emergencies.

Update: The CNS Shandong reportedly went back to sea trials in August 2019, suggesting the vessel experienced technical problems during trials.

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