China's remarkable rise as an economic colossus has been shadowed by a no less impressive military buildup. A prime example of the latter will shortly be revealed, as China's People's Liberation Army Navy takes the nation's first aircraft carrier out for sea trials this summer.
Purchased from the Ukraine in April of 1998, the 300 meter (1,000 ft) long “Varyag” has been undergoing renovations and upgrading that will take the former Admiral Kuznetsov class multirole aircraft carrier far beyond its original Soviet-era capabilities.
The upgrades extend to the vessel's name, “Shi Lang” (left), who was the Qing dynasty admiral who conquered present day Taiwan back in 1681. If the PLAN is sending Taipei a hint, it could hardly be less subtle. The impending launch of the Shi Lang has raised eyebrows and anxiety in Washington as well. “Based on the feedback from our partners and allies in the Pacific,” Adm. Robert Willard told a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, “I think the change in perception by the region will be significant.”
The Shi Lang may look odd to those more familiar with U.S. Navy flattops dating back to the Second World War. Most notably, the Shi Lang's “top” isn't flat – a prominent ski-jump style rise allows the ship's complement of navy air fighters to hit the air running, as it were.
Speaking of which, it should be mentioned that the new Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark recently conducted successful air trials. Modeled on Russia's Sukhoi Su-33, the J-15 has folding wings, twin nose wheels and a tail hook – features required for jets launched from aircraft carriers.
Last but not least, China has contracted with the Ukraine to allow training of PLAN pilots at the country's naval aviation training centers, equipped with angled runways (right) that approximate the bow geometry of the Shi Lang. All things considered, it does seem like China is set to greatly extend her reach on the high seas. Sounds like a PLAN? (via Peopleforum.cn, Shi Lang image via Phoenixlu)