While the U.S. Navy awaits the delivery of the first-in-class aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford in 2016, the Chinese navy appears to have its own flattop-construction milestone on the horizon.
It’s not exactly an armada, but every carrier fleet has to start somewhere.
The Chinese carrier fleet, for example, started in the Ukraine. In 1998, a Hong Kong travel agency reportedly bought the unfinished, Cold War-era carrier Varyag from that former Soviet state, claiming it planned to turn the warship into a floating casino.
Before anybody got around to installing the blackjack tables, the hull made its way to Dalian, in northeast China, where a $2 billion overhaul turned a Kuznetsov-class relic into the flattop pictured above.
(Well, it’s not exactly “flat”: Navy Times readers have been quick to notice its “sweet jump” in earlier photos, referencing a classic of modern cinema.)
That same shipyard has begun construction on the second, reportedly larger, carrier. State-run Chinese media announced the news online, the South China Morning Post reported Sunday, but the announcements have since been, as the Post put it, “deleted from the Internet” — no reason given.
The same paper reported late last year that China expects to have four carriers in service by 2020.
While the U.S. Navy’s “Pacific pivot” could be seen as a direct reaction to China’s growing naval strength, the nations have been at work on partnership efforts — Chinese ships will participate in this year’s Rim of the Pacific exercises, for instance, and a recent confrontation between the destroyer Cowpens and a Chinese amphib received full-on diplomatic damage control by Chinese officials.
On the other hand, Taiwan’s plans to counter this growing threat have been in place for years and are fairly straightforward. All the more reason for the Chinese to batten down the blackjack tables, just in case.