January 2, 2017

Liaoning carrier group 1 - First Exercise Beyong the First Island Chain

This is the first instalment of a week long series on the Chinese carrier Liaoning, its escorts and submarines.

Submarines belonging to China, the US, Japan and possibly South Korea and Taiwan may all have played roles in surveilling or counter-surveilling (and protecting) the Liaoning carrier group’s late December 2016 exercise in the Western Pacific. The submarines worked in cooperation with many other sensor platforms. [see the second instalment of this week's series Liaoning carrier group 2 (Wednesday)].

The HQ of each of the China's fleets are indicated, along with ship and submarine numbers in each fleet. (Map courtesy US DoD, Annual Report to Congress - Chinese Military Power 2016 (PDF about 10MB) on page 29)

China's test carrier Liaoning comes from China's North Sea Fleet. The carrier group escorts come from all three of China's Fleets (North, East and South Sea). The multi-fleet nature reinforces that the late December 2016 activity, beyond the Japan-Taiwan-Luzon portion of the First Island Chain, was very much an initial exercise rather than an operation.

For this activity the Liaoning carrier group:

-  probably set out on 23 December 2016 from its North Sea Fleet HQ base at Qingdao (Liaoning’s
   regular Naval Base)

-  passed through the Miyako Strait (between Okinawa and Miyako-jima (“jima” is Japanese for
   “island”) on 25 December 

The broken line - at least from Kyushu, Japn to Luzon, Philippines marks a portion of the First Island Chain and perhaps also a past or current undersea sensors array - perhaps used by China's opponents to hem in China's Navy (PLA-N). (Map from page 54, The Tools of Owatatsumi Japan’s Ocean Surveillance and Coastal Defence Capabilities (PDF about 10MB) (2015, ANU Press)).

-  the group then sailed east of Taiwan – then returned to the First Island Chain line by turning west
   through the Bashi Channel (Luzon Strait) to the north of the Philippines

-  then continued west to port facilities at Sanya/Yulin Naval Base, at China's Hainan Island by 28th
Efficiently putting all the elements of carrier group operations together may take China years. This is particularly in the "enemy congested" waters of the East China and South China Seas. Within  the First Island Chain there so many enemy missiles, bombs or torpedos are close at hand to threaten or sink Liaoning. Liaoning, in the medium to long term, might need to be based outside the First Island Chain to be reasonably secure. 

On Wednesday, 4 January, the second instalment of this week's series - Liaoning carrier group.



Nicky K.D Chaleunphone said...

Hi Pete, the only problem with the Liaoning is that it's a STOBAR carrier and they only work with aircraft that have a high thrust to weight ratio. That means they are limited to what kinds of Aircraft they can carry and what weapons they can carry.

Anonymous said...

Near term, carriers like Liaoning are for prestige while China's surface fleet spear for AA/AD is truly carried by the 12+ type 052D destroyers and in the future supplemented with type 055. Even with the type 052D, China has closed the technological gap with the US Arleigh Burke. Type 052D carries 64 VLS launchers similar to the US Mk41. Its CJ-10 cruise missile is like the US Tomahawk while the 500km+ YJ-18 anti ship missile does not have a US equivalent, not until LRASM comes out. Besides type 052D is equipped with the naval SAM version of the vaunted Russian S-300PMU (HQ-9). Already there are more type 052D than Japan has AEGIS destroyers. It looks like China is on track to build 2-3 types 052D each year. The same goes with diesel submarines production. Increased and sustained defense spending is a safety net (aka a job program) when the economy slows down.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Nicky K.D Chaleunphone

I've also read somewhere that the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STOBAR takeoff limits the Chinese carrier aircraft (J-15s) to just 4,000 lbs of ordinance (weapons, extra fuel tanks and/or sensor pods) compared to 12,000 lbs (for Super Hornets) on the US Nimitz class https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CATOBAR carriers.



Peter Coates said...


Yes prestige seems a major part of Chinese thinking at the moment (one up on Japan's "carriers" and better than Russia (which doesn't even having a Pacific based carrier)).

China's geographical limitations (too close to enemy air bases) for carriers operating near the Chinese coast within the First Island Chain seems to make Chinese fleet carriers unviable for mainland defence.

However a viable role may be if China were to use carriers as floating air bases (like US carriers and the Charles de Gaulle) for missions near Middle East oil areas (ie Syria and Iraq counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism). Also protection of Chinese oil tanker routes across the Indian Ocean from pirates or state-based threats.

Thanks for your Destroyer comments which I'll take up in an article on Thurs or Fri this week.



Anonymous said...

I don't understand why after so many years people are still complaining about the Kuz/ Liaoning /Vikra. Those are fleet-defense carriers! They should be compared to the Italian & French ones. Not the strike-carriers of the USN.

The second Liaoning-type is nearing structural finish and will be probably launched Spring 2017. Those two carriers will serve largely as combat-capable training-carriers - not more. Enough to pound the SEA nations' fleets.

Production of the third CV, which will be CATOBAR, has already started and so the CATOBAR-version of the J-15 (aka Su-33). There is currently a trial of steam-catapult vs EM-catapult. The PLAN will pick the winning cat-design very soon.

Anyway the Liaoning or its' sister escorted by several Type-52-DDGs and a Type-093B-SSN is still a force to be reckoned with.

Team Eurowussies

Anonymous said...

I am not sure I would compare a Liaoning to the Charles de Gaulle. CdG is a CATOBAR carrier that can carry a maximum wing of 40 Rafale-M. It uses the US type 13 catapult on a shorter throw but still that Rafale M can carry even a bigger payload than the Super Hornet for the same range. Sure the CdG does not have the same mission launch and recovery capabilities than the US CVN.