China’s New Aircraft Carrier Joins the Fleet

With the official acceptance of the Liaoning into the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), China now has its own aircraft carrier. From Beijing’s perspective, this is a landmark event, as China had long been the only member of the U.N. Security Council’s permanent five nations (the veto-wielders) not to have an aircraft carrier of its own. It is important, however, to keep this development in perspective. China’s new aircraft carrier is not yet operational insofar as it is not yet operating an air wing off of its flight deck. The Chinese are seeking to purchase a carrier-capable aircraft from the Russians (the Su-33) and to develop their own version, currently referred to as the J-15. For at least the next year, however, it is unlikely that China will actually field a carrier-capable aircraft in any numbers. Therefore, the Liaoning’s greatest contribution to China is likely to be its political (rather than military) impact. The future deployment of a Chinese carrier will be an opportunity to influence and even intimidate other states over territorial and other issues.

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