January 18, 2017

Liaoning carrier group 6 - Uses for Liaoning.

As well as the J-15 fighters Liaoning can probably take the usefully medium-large Z-18 helicopter. See much larger Liaoning image.

Liaoning and its exercises with its escort group are a gradual Chinese weapons system project. China recognises that building superior aircraft carriers is more a long-term (15+ year) goal. A complimentary project is airbase island building in the South China Sea. Also useful to China would be a developed aerial refueling capability for carrier aircraft and land-based aircraft (currently very limited).

Drawing on the sources below I'd say China has built and operated the Liaoning:

-  as a technical development prototype. Blueprints or just looking at Liaoning in port are inadequate. Liaoning's existing systems, China's many thousands of repairs and modifications, how Liaoning's technology interoperates with China's new J-15s, helicopters, defensive weapons and sensors all need to be tested in practice.

-  training. the ship-crew, airwing maintainers/directors and pilots all need to be trained and tested. Best to make mistakes in practice rather than in action.

-  given China has never operated modern fleets of ships of any type, in action, many skills and perceptions need developing. The difficult maneuvres and interdependencies of a carrier group also need practice and testing

-  strategies and doctrines must be developed to coordinate Liaoning air operations with air operations from bases on the Chinese mainland, Hainan, and as MHalblaub says below, air bases on South China Sea islands.

-  Liaoning is likely to be of little use in "liberating" Taiwan operations as missiles and aircraft on the Chinese mainland are already in easy range of Taiwan. Liaoning would also be highly vulnerable to Taiwanese anti-ship missiles and possibly torpedos

-  along the lines Josh says below Liaoning is of little use against powerful navies (US, Japan, South Korea (ROK) I'd add Russian) and even against Australia's submarine squadron.

-  it is in low or no threat environments that Liaoning's small, limited range, airwing is more useful. 

-  large aircraft carriers are potent symbols of emerging China’s status as a great power and eventual superpower. More specifically Liaoning is useful in ship visits to
   =  boosting patriotism in northern China, in Shanghai and Hong Kong (these shorter
       range missions would also help Liaoning develop its group logistics-replenishment procedures

       and iron-out any propulsion breakdowns
   =  to intimidate or impress the locals in small countries, perhaps East Timor, Fiji, Solomons and
       other island nations,
   =  to regional countries and arms customers, eg, the Philippines, Malaysia. Thailand might be
        possible in August or later in 2017. This is for a proposed "International Fleet Review Thailand
        2017" Thailand's 11,500 ton carrier is featured in this fleet review "trailer"
-  for regional disaster-humanitarian missions and evacuation of Chinese nationals. Liaoning can provide many resources including a squadron of medium-large helicopters, accommodation for many, and medical facilities   
-  China may eventually aim to sail a Liaoning carrier group across the Indian Ocean. India may object and dissuade China from trying for several years. Perhaps in response to this Submarine Matters article see US Admiral Harry Harris Jr. CINCPAC speculating (30 hours later on 19/1/2017) talking of likely Indian concern about threat of a Chinese carrier group in future operating in Indian Ocean. 

-  To service a rare alliance a visit to Karachi, Pakistan in 2019 may be enticing?

-  2019 or later an operational mission as a command/helicopter carrier on anti-drug, anti-piracy duties my be possible off the Horn of Africa. This may tie in with China's development of its new regional administrative and naval base at Djibouti (where thousands of Chinese military and civilians will serve).

-  the followon ski-jump carrier to Liaoning may be the first used for counter-insurgency/terrorism airstrikes from the Mediterranean if the Syrian conflict continues. Such airstrikes from "floating airbases" are the standard function of US carriers and Charles de Gaulle.

A followon ski-jump carrier or two and then a catapult carrier are likely to be the next evolutionary stages in China's carrier program.


Josh indicated here: "The Liaoning's primary uses as I see it are gathering operational experience, projecting power into low/no threat areas, and diplomatic coercion of lesser regional powers (ie, Not the US, Oz, ROK, or Japan). Again those powers she likely is more of a liability and a target than an offensive asset."

MHalblaub indicated at 17/1/17 11:32 PM: "The Liaoning is a training vessel for China. Unlike other nations China has the capability to build nuclear powered aircraft carriers. China will notice the deficiencies and build a proper carrier on its own with catapults. At the moment China is building some very large aircraft carriers in the South China Sea. A type called island and very hard to sink by a submarine." 

I found comment the American who may be the No.1 public naval analyst. He is Ronald O'Rourke, Specialist in Naval Affairs, Congressional Research Service (CRS) . In China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress, June 17, 2016, CRS 7-5700 www.crs.gov RL33153 https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33153.pdf (PDF around 10 MB) O'Rourke writes several pages (19 to 26) of comment on China's aircraft carrier and carrier aircraft aspirations. Pages 23 to 25 are strong on Liaoning's uses. 



Josh said...


Two questions concerning Liaoning that are technical and not related to her employment, but I thought I'd post in the most recent Liaoning topic:

1). Is it known if Liaoning retains the AShM armament of Kuznetsov, or even just the space for the launch tubes? It doesn't appear to have that system, and if it was completely removed, this might mean that she has more hanger space below the forward deck where the AShM tubes were located than her sister...ah, in Russian, brother ship.

2). Is it known for certain in open source* that her Russian propulsion system is retained?

3). I've heard of J-15 flight ops being conducted, but so far not heard the Z-18F/A being used, perhaps because helo ops are less impressive to display. Is it known that either of these two types were deployed operationally on Liaoning?

*Anyone with an SSK listening to her would know if she was switched out to non-steam propulsion.


Peter Coates said...

Interesting that 30 hours after this Submarine Matters article was published US Admiral Harry Harris Jr. (CINCPAC) speculates about an unusual issue raised in the article.

That is Harry Harris talks of likely Indian concern about the threat of a Chinese carrier group operating in Indian Ocean, in future.

see http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/chinese-aircraft-carrier-can-sail-into-indian-ocean-at-will-says-top-us-commander-1650420

Peter Coates said...

Hi Josh

1 to 3 are all good questions.

1. Information on Liaoning's armament deletions translating to more room for aircraft are dependent on what little information China rations out. So we are reduced to using https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_aircraft_carrier_Liaoning (right sidebar) which mentions no ASCM armament. I think Russia's highly missiled cruiser-carrier concept is unique, something China wishing to maximise aircraft firepower doesn't want to adopt.

Many additional variables to Remove missile mounts = More aviation space.

2). Nothing would be absolutely certain in open or other sources.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_aircraft_carrier_Liaoning indicates "Contrary to information that had been disseminated by Beijing, Xu reported that all four original engines of the propulsion system remained in place preserved in grease seals at the time of purchase and removal to China.[25] A refit restored them to working order in 2011." Liaoning's sidebar shows the same propulsion specs as Kuznetzov's https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_aircraft_carrier_Admiral_Kuznetsov

I read somewhere that the Chinese altered Liaoning's propulsion to work at more optimal pressures/temperatures to lower Ukrainian-Russian style breakdowns.

The beauty of subs + UUVs + SOSUS is that prolonged recordings can be made of Liaoning's propulsion cycles and signatures. Big engines are noisy.

3). True I haven't heard of Liaoning helicopter ops either. It may even be Liaoning's hanger decks are hardly or not functional - making Liaoning just a short-haul, one-surface deck proposition (so far).



Peter Coates said...

Hi Josh (again)

Here's the China changing Liaoning's boiler pressure info.

Navy Recognition, 16 November 2016, http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php/news/defence-news/2016/november-2016-navy-naval-forces-defense-industry-technology-maritime-security-global-news/4572-china-declares-first-aircraft-carrier-liaoning-now-combat-ready.html

"When the ex-Varyag was sold to China, propulsion systems were the few parts of the ship that remained in a proper state. The Chinese engineers then analyzed all the systems and implemented more than 1,000 modifications in order to improve the stability, the reliability and the overall performance of the propulsion.

[HERE'S THE SNIPPET] One of the major changes applied was to reduce the pressure in the boiler pipes, in order to prevent boilers from operating systematically in over-drive mode when the vessel exceeds 18 knots, a problem that was present on its sistership, the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov."



Josh said...


Thanks, this all strongly implies she roughly maintained the old school boiler/steam turbine arrangement. I honestly wasn't sure what else they could do with a ship of that size to get it up to speed anyway, but I'm a little surprised that the original propulsion equipment was truly operational and salvageable. Its worth noting every time I see Liaoning steam she burns clean where as Kuznetsov always looks like a moving tire fire. That could be due to the mods the Chinese made or simply because Liaoning is relatively fresh out of refit and Kuz is in desperate need.