By Jonathan Davis
In case you were wondering just how China plans to use its budding aircraft carrier force, a report this week in Hong Kong media answered the question, in part at least.
The Chinese navy will use its carrier force to interdict any forces sent to aid Taiwan in the event the island democracy tries to claim independence.
That, of course, is a direct challenge to the United States, which has a security agreement with Taiwan.
The South China Morning Post reports:
China’s new aircraft carrier is likely to team up with its sister ship to form a dual-carrier battle group to cut off foreign military access to Taiwan during a war, according to a military magazine and defence specialists.
Instead of fighting alone, the Shandong, which was commissioned on Tuesday, would work with the Liaoning, a refitted Soviet Kuznetsov-class vessel, to create a more powerful combination to block US or Japanese vessels from reaching the island if they went to the aid independence-leaning forces on Taiwan, the Beijing-based Naval and Merchant Ships monthly magazine reported on Tuesday.
“[Another major] task of the [battle group’s aircraft] is to stop US long-range bombers from taking off from a naval base in Guam. This would be to prevent American aircraft targeting the PLA’s landing transport formations and Chinese submarines,” it said.
Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province that must be unified with the mainland by force, if necessary.
In addition to the Liaoning and Shandong, the dual-carrier group will include two Type 055 guided-missile destroyers, the region’s most advanced destroyer; four Type 054 frigates; six guided-missile frigates, as well as one supply ship and three Type 093B nuclear submarines, according to the report.
Up to now, the Liaoning has largely been a training carrier, as China did not have any before it retrofitted the ship, whose keel was laid down in Ukraine in the waning years of the Soviet Union.
But it was always expected that the ship would become a fully-operational element of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, and this report makes that pretty much official.
One drawback, however, besides just a lack of operational experience (the U.S. Navy has been operating carriers since the late 1920s): China’s newest carrier is likely only going to carry about half its original complement of J-15 warplanes — 24 instead of 36.
The plane is the heaviest seaborne fighter in the world so that’s probably the main reason why. But in any shooting war over Taiwan or for any other reason, the PLAN remains at a distinct disadvantage.
American carriers are far more powerful, much larger, carry a larger complement of more advanced fighters. Add Japan’s F-35Bs once they get their “helicopter carriers” converted to carry the stealthy jets and the disadvantage for China grows.
But one thing China does have is proximity to its home turf. Any fleet would also be protected from shore missile batteries that likely can outrange any U.S. carrier-based plane.
However, that said, Taiwan has missiles too.