China has taken a significant step forward in its ambitions for a fleet of aircraft carriers after readying its first such vessel for sea trials. After almost a decade of renovation work, the hull of an unfinished Soviet Kuznetsov class carrier appears to have been restored to seagoing condition. Despite official denials that the ship was being resurrected for military use, a daily stream of evidence to the contrary on the internet, showing a hive of shipyard activity, including the installation of engines, radar and weapons, suggested otherwise.
The ship is likely to be used to train the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) first generation of naval aviators with the same Su-33 Flanker air-defence fighter jets used by the Russian Navy on Admiral Kuznetsov, although the Chinese are reported to be developing their own version of the aircraft. The Shenyang J-15 is a reverse-engineered copy of a Ukrainian prototype. A full size mock-up of the flight deck has already been in use at Wuhan for a number of years.
The former Varyag was acquired from Ukraine in 1992 when 70 per cent complete. It was sold for just $20 million to a Chinese delegation with the rather dubious stated intention of converting it into a casino. It eventually arrived at Dalian in 2002. The PLAN are thought to be planning to build up to six more aircraft carriers.