[Epoch Times, June 18, 2022]On June 17, the CCP’s third aircraft carrier “Fujian” was launched. It is said that this is the first catapult-type aircraft carrier designed and built by itself. It adopts a straight and long flight deck, is equipped with electromagnetic catapult and blocking devices, and has a full-load displacement of more than 80,000 tons. The CCP has a “three-step” plan for an aircraft carrier. The first step is to continue the construction of the “Varyag” (that is, the Liaoning ship), the second step is to develop a conventional-powered catapult aircraft carrier, and the next step will be to develop a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The “Fujian” is considered to have completed the “second step”. But the question is, why did the CCP develop the aircraft carrier like this?
The reason why the CCP vigorously develops aircraft carriers is to transform the navy and build a “blue navy” to challenge the United States.
On April 23, 1949, the first naval force of the CCP was formally established. In the first 30 years, the CCP’s navy was weak and weak, and implemented the strategy of “near-shore defense”, that is, relying on coastal fortresses, focusing on the construction of naval shore-based aviation, submarines, and fast attack boats, and “building only light ships, not heavy ships.” , such a light navy plays the role of a “sea breaking guerrilla”. After accumulating some wealth, since 1978, the CCP has proposed the “offshore defense” strategy, extending the depth of naval defense, transferring from the nearshore area to the offshore area where interests are at stake, and conducting larger-scale military operations. “Offshore” is defined as “my country’s Yellow Sea, East China Sea, South China Sea, Nansha Islands, the waters inside and outside the island chain of Taiwan and Okinawa, as well as the waters in the northern Pacific Ocean, and beyond the offshore is the COSCO Sea” (Liu Huaqing). This strategy continued for another thirty years.
In 2012, when Xi Jinping came to power, the report of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China first mentioned building a “maritime power”. In 2015, the CCP released its first military strategy white paper, indicating that the CCP navy has launched a new round of strategic transformation: “offshore defense and long-sea escort”. In July 2019, the CCP published the first comprehensive national defense white paper after the “military reform” started in 2015, and further revised the strategic goal of the navy to “offshore defense and long-sea defense”. “Ocean Guard” means that the Chinese navy cannot operate independently in the open sea, while “distant sea defense” means that the Chinese navy has greatly improved its ability to conduct intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, logistical supplies and three-dimensional saturation attacks on the open sea 1,500 kilometers away.
On March 2, 2021, the Type 055 10,000-ton destroyer “Lhasa” officially joined the naval sequence. The spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of National Defense called the Chinese Navy “a landmark achievement in realizing strategic transformation and development.” More than a month later, on April 23, the Long March 18 (the latest strategic nuclear submarine), the Hainan ship (the first Type 075 amphibious assault ship), and the Dalian ship (the Type 055 destroyer) were handed over to a military port in Sanya, Hainan. Column, Xi Jinping attended the ceremony.
The 003 aircraft carrier “Fujian” was launched this time. The number of aircraft carriers owned by the CCP ranks second in the world, second only to the United States. It shows that the CCP regards building a “blue navy” as a strategic priority and aims to catch up with the United States. Of course, the technological gold content and combat capability of the Chinese aircraft carrier is far worse than that of the US aircraft carrier; but after all, it also poses a certain threat to the US military, which the US calls a “pacing threat”.
The CCP’s construction of a “blue navy” faces three major problems
Under the current world structure and military technology conditions, if the CCP wants to finally build a “blue navy”, it must take the construction of aircraft carriers as the core. The CCP is ambitious, relying on the strength of the world’s second largest economy to openly engage in an “aircraft carrier race” with the United States. At the same time, two aircraft carriers are under construction, currently only China and the United States. However, the following three major problems cannot be avoided by the CCP no matter what, and it is difficult to say whether the CCP can solve them.
First, is the military spending enough? It costs money to build an aircraft carrier, and it costs more to maintain an aircraft carrier fleet. In recent years, China‘s economic growth rate has continued to decline, and the growth rate of fiscal revenue has fallen even faster. This year, some local civil servants have reduced their salaries. In this general environment, the CCP’s military spending will continue to grow against the trend, but the space is quite limited; it cannot rule out the possibility of economic recession and military spending staying stagnant or even declining. Then there is the allocation of military spending. Taking 2017 as an example, personnel expenses accounted for 30.8%, training and maintenance accounted for 28.1%, and equipment accounted for 41.1%. The CCP’s current reforms of “combat-based training” and “professionalization of officers” require a lot of money, which will squeeze out equipment costs; and in the equipment costs, the CCP wants to “innovate and make breakthroughs” in an all-round way, and the stalls are too large, and all the services and arms are too large. In the rush for money, how can aircraft carrier construction funds not be impacted?
In early 2021, the U.S. Congressional Research Service issued an annual military report saying that the CCP attempted to manufacture a 100,000-ton nuclear-powered electromagnetic aircraft carrier 004, but research and development has been suspended due to economic reasons. When the former Soviet Union disintegrated, the aircraft carrier Vagryan (now the CCP’s “Liaoning Ship”) was 60%-70% completed and finally abandoned. If China‘s economy deteriorates, the Chinese aircraft carrier may also face the fate of being abandoned.
Second, is the technology OK? “Liaoning”, “Shandong” and “Fujian” are all conventional power design layouts, and can also perform some “blue water missions”, but to be eligible to be called “blue water aircraft carriers”, they must be nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. But although the CCP has studied for many years, it is still a long way from building a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The Linglong No. 1 small nuclear reactor developed by the CCP can only solve the problem of miniaturized land-based reactors. Not only has it not been tested on a ship (the marine environment is far worse than that on land), but it also has a very big flaw, which requires two When the nuclear fuel is replenished once a year, the fuel concentration is only 3%, while the fuel concentration of the Nimitz aircraft carrier reactor in the United States reaches 60%.
More importantly, the current new round of scientific and military revolution is developing rapidly. Without strong economic and technical support, it is impossible to build and maintain the most advanced aircraft carrier battle group. It is to dig a pit for itself in wartime and become a coffin for maritime activities. Therefore, the U.S. Navy has frequently retired old aircraft carriers, and has always maintained the most advanced aircraft carriers with overwhelming technological advantages to perform combat duty.
Third, can an overseas base system be established? Aircraft carriers need enough escort strength to form battle groups of different levels. Even a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, an aircraft carrier battle group, also requires a large amount of special fuel, aviation fuel and ammunition supplies. If only relying on ocean-going supply ships, the aircraft carrier battle group will be greatly limited; in order to give full play to the effectiveness of the aircraft carrier, it is necessary to build a corresponding aircraft carrier forward base system (the United States has built a global base system).
To this end, one of the CCP’s strategic layout ideas is to combine the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” with the strategic transformation of the CCP’s navy and promote each other with the South China Sea as the base axis and the western Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean as the two wings. In recent years, the CCP has implemented the “String of Pearls Strategy” (obtaining overseas berthing bases for warships through various means such as funding, including relevant ports or airports in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and other countries), and established the first project in Djibouti, East Africa in 2017. An overseas military base, the signing of a security agreement in the Pacific island country Solomon Islands in April this year, etc., all contain such considerations.
However, the current global strategic pattern is rapidly evolving towards the direction of Sino-US bipolar confrontation. The US has launched the “Indo-Pacific Strategy”, upgraded the Japan-US-Australia-India Quadrilateral Talks, established a new trilateral security alliance between Australia, the UK and the US, and cooperated with the “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework”. In this situation, can the CCP successfully build an overseas base system that supports the “Blue Navy”?
If the above three major problems cannot be solved, the strategic transformation of the Chinese navy will be out of reach.
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Responsible editor: Gao Yi