The aircraft carrier is the weapon whose obituary is constantly being written, but which also refuses to die. Twenty years ago, during the height of the “revolution in military affairs” craze, the aircraft carrier was written off as a dinosaur.
In a projected future where warfare was all about being small, stealthy, and fast, an 80,000-ton carrier was seen as too big and too cumbersome, while its function could be replaced by missiles and precision-guided weapons. Moreover, aircraft carriers were considered to be just “cruise missile magnets” — modern-day cannon fodder in the new 21st-century battlespace.
And yet more and more countries — particularly in Asia — are discovering the potential value of aircraft carriers. China and India are currently the only Asian countries operating large fixed-wing carriers, but they may soon be joined by new players, particularly Japan and South Korea (and perhaps others).
China launches first ‘home-made’ carrier
China recently launched its first completely domestically built aircraft carrier, the Type-001A. Displacing 70,000 tons fully loaded, and capable of carrying up to 48 aircraft, the Type-001A is a marked improvement over China’s first carrier, the Liaoning (the refurbished ex-Soviet Varyag).
India has operated aircraft carriers for more than 50 years, although until recently all of its carriers were second-hand, acquired from Britain or Russia. Currently, India operates one carrier, the 45,000-ton INS Vikramaditya (the ex-Russian navy Admiral Gorshkov, sold to India in 2004 and heavily rebuilt and refitted). More importantly, India has also constructed its own domestically built carrier, the INS Vikrant, which is currently undergoing sea trials and will likely be commissioned by 2020.
(Thailand also operates a “pocket carrier,” the 12,000-ton Chakri Nareubet; although configured for the use of AV-8S Harrier jump jets, all of Thailand’s Harriers are currently inoperable, and the Chakri Nareubet can only fly helicopters.)
Current Asian carriers have limitations
To be sure, Asia’s current carriers have limits. They carry much fewer combat aircraft than the US Navy’s flagship Nimitz-class carrier, a 100,000-ton, nuclear-powered behemoth that can deploy at least 90 planes. In comparison, the Liaoning can carry only two dozen fighter jets and the Vikramaditya about the same.
In addition, current Indian and Chinese carriers suffer from the use of the “ski-jump” design: a curved ramp on the flight deck that permits aircraft to take off without using a complicated (and expensive) catapult. Unfortunately, a ski-jump design greatly limits the number of aircraft that can be operated at any one time. Just as important, fighter jets have to sacrifice weapons loads for fuel in order to take off, essentially making them flying gas cans. All these factors greatly limit the firepower and range of operations of these carriers.
Despite these limitations, more aircraft carriers are coming to Asia, and they are expanding in terms of numbers, capabilities, and operators. Both China and India are planning more carriers. India wants a minimum of three carriers, and China could build up to a half dozen. China is already working on its second indigenous carrier, the Type-002, which will be larger (at least 80,000 tons) and will likely feature a totally flat deck utilizing a catapult (possibly a state-of-the-art electromagnetic launch system, currently found only on the US Navy’s Ford-class). India is also considering catapults for future carriers.
Chinese and Indian carriers are also getting bigger and therefore more able to carry more aircraft. This could greatly expand their operational capabilities.
Chinese and Indian carriers are also getting bigger and therefore more able to carry more aircraft. This could greatly expand their operational capabilities. There is even speculation that these countries could eventually incorporate nuclear power into their carrier propulsion systems, although this is likely decades away.
Just as important, at least two other Asian-Pacific countries — Japan and South Korea — are considering the idea of joining the club of Asian aircraft carrier operators. Both countries currently possess large open-deck assault ships (the Izumo-class in Japan, the Dokdo in Korea); although these flat-tops are currently used only for helicopters, they could become the basis for small fixed-wing carriers.
In fact, a recent article in Defense News suggests that both countries are looking into buying several F-35B fighter jets, the short-takeoff/vertical-landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. Both the Izumo and the Dokdo have flight decks long enough to accommodate the F-35B, although there is also speculation that ski-jumps could be added to these vessels (or new ships built) to expand their use.
Other countries could soon join in. Australia has acquired two Canberra-class assault ships, basically copies of the Spanish-built aircraft carrier, the Juan Carlos I. The Canberra even retains the ski-jump design of the Juan Carlos, and could, therefore, be quickly fitted for fixed-wing aircraft.
Singapore is also said to be looking into buying F-35Bs, which could be deployed on a new, open-deck amphibious assault ship that it is building.
Carrier symbolism should not be undervalued
Far from being written off, the aircraft carrier is continuing to undergo a rebirth. Even a handful of carrier-based fixed-wing aircraft — especially highly capable systems such as the US F-35B or the Russian Su-33 — could play a decisive role in battle and also likely shift regional balances of power, particularly in such places as the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. In addition, aircraft carriers can have a sizable symbolic and signaling effect (the “50,000-tons of diplomacy”) that should not be undervalued.
Finally, possessing sizable numbers of aircraft carriers could have enormous implications for how regional navies might operate in the future. In the case of China, it could likely mean the fundamental reorganization of the PLA Navy (PLAN) around Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs), with the carrier at the heart of a constellation of supporting submarines, destroyers and frigates — an amalgamation of power projection at its foremost. Such CSGs are among the most impressive instruments of military power, in terms of sustained, far-reaching, and expeditionary offensive force. A CSG-oriented PLAN could be game-changer in the Asia-Pacific.
Therefore, during the next decade or so, expect the number of aircraft carriers and the number of countries operating carriers, to expand, not decline.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own.
There in no harm in using an aircraft career only in defensive mode not far away from home. To base your military strategy on its use faraway is suicide.
That is because use of attack may have had a use upto 19th century, the 20th century European/Western way of violence has been a failure. But the West has a mind blockage to change its old doctrine as violence is the only way they know. Says so factually the West’s Prophet of Doom Samuel Huntington:
” .. The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do ”
—— The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, p. 51…
The best strategy to guarantee survival, growth, and evolution is good deeds and cooperation, and here China shows the way for 21st century with its BRI/OBOR to unite Europe, Asia, Africa into one land-mass Common Market. Trade and Exchange is best way to promote peace.
Can not help it.
India is the only chance they have now when all others are abandoning the Western sinking ship like rats lol.
Whites came, dared, conquered. With brains and brawn. That’s how they built the modern world. Jealous much?
As for supposed Sino enlightenment, they managed to liquidate tens of millions of their own in an ideologically-driven hecatomb. The same kind of craziness in gory evidence in 70s Kampuchea, or modern NK. Good deeds, indeed.
And meanwhile, with few exceptions, Moslems continue to stew in medieval torpor. Gonna wake up any time soon? Not likely.
Aircraft carriers are great at projecting power against poorly armed nations, you can sit off the coast out of range and out of sight of the targets defense forces and bomb them into submission.
Try that on a nation with a modern military, and you will be feeding the fish long before your planes are within range of the target.
I served on Australia’s last aircraft carrier(HMAS Melbourne) and Australia stopped using carriers, because they are an offensive weapon and are extremely expensive. At the time the Australian military decided to concentrate on defense, but under pressure from the USA, they are now once again looking at offensive weapons.
One wonders whom Australia needs to be "offensive" against, on the basis of its own legitimate, as opposed to USrael-imposed, interests.
Michael Klopman, do you happen to have wet dreams with Rita Katz and Victoria Nuland ?
Jealous? LOL. I feel pity for the West. All that "accomplishments" and still below replinishment.
The wise from the East scratch their heads why such people committed suicide 1914-45 killing 120,000,000 (or 1 in 4) of their own if they had any wisdom? Kampuchea and NK are Sunday Picnics by comparison LOL.
Anyway, enjoy the party while it lasts. Trump, May, Macron, Sturgeon, Merkel …. all childless. What kind of future are they building, for whom? No kids, no future. When you will be all gone we shall inherit the earth, just as Jesus said.
You still have time to repent. Eschew violence, join the civilized. Gandhi, (or was it Mao) when asked of civilization in the West, quipped "it will be a good idea". So right.
If you can’t manage the small details, how can you manage the big ones?
Katz and Nudelman — two nonwhites whose kind hasn’t done whites any favors.
Trump is practically childless. Michael Wolff states that everyone in WH is claiming that Trump is still a child, so how can he have children?
What good are Ivanka and Jr. et al if they get him in trouble?
That is racist …
Oh I see
why r u jealous with india..r u the retarded one????..india is a world power confirmed by the only super power..MIGHTY USA
Syed Abbas u r de one jealous mulla..typicall redical paki..can’t expect better from u anyway ????
May like the nuclear bombs, only good in cold war. Otherwise, nuclear war means mutual distinguishing, and carriers would be destroyed by so many ways in a real ocean war, just like the largest carriers made by Japan did not save the imperial fleet during the Pacific war.
Toofan Ranjan Dash
Hello want to ask how they can identify the exact location of carrier so they can target it with the missile? If satellite i think there is different in time in picture taken by the satellite than present situation.
AIR CRAFT CARRIER ITS NOW DAYS LIKE A TWEETER TREND.. EVERY ONE WANT TO HAVE IT. BUT ITS ALSO LIKE WHITE ELEPHANT. BIG BUDJETS
I do not agree with the view point that carriers can survive or influence a war, and more so between two evenly matched adversaries. Like the behemoths and battle ships of yore, the carrier is now approaching obsolence in modern warfare. Carriers are good for peace time fleet reviews, for power projection, for ego, for gunboat diplomacy and for ‘bullying’ small nations which do not have the where-withal, ability, technology and weaponry to neutralise a carrier. No aircraft, no kamikaze type attacks, no torpedo’s: just a couple of missiles and you have dealt a major reverse to the morale, reputation and capability of an adversary. Imagine a 100,000 ton nuclear carrier going to Davy Jones Locker even before the ground operations start!! And by some small country which has managed to have acquire an arsenal of scud type of unsophisticated missiles. The country with the carrier may win the war—-but not because of the carrier, at what cost?? And what after that??
No real carrier operations have taken place post WW2. Irrespective of the lofty claims of ‘carrier protection’ and that large anti aircraft/missile ‘umbrella’ and a 150 km sanitised zone:: the carrier is a HVT and a dead duck in any hot war scenario.
India should builds toilet first before aircraft carrier.
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