The Pentagon yawns at China’s carrier ops

While we here at Killer Apps were enjoying the last day of our Thanksgiving holiday, the Chinese navy was busy conducting its first ever takeoffs and landings from its brand new aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, with brand-new J-15 fighter jets. Some observers have hailed this as the start of a new era in naval history ...

Chinese Internet, China Defense Blog
Chinese Internet, China Defense Blog
Chinese Internet, China Defense Blog

While we here at Killer Apps were enjoying the last day of our Thanksgiving holiday, the Chinese navy was busy conducting its first ever takeoffs and landings from its brand new aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, with brand-new J-15 fighter jets.

Some observers have hailed this as the start of a new era in naval history while others aren't so impressed. So far, the U.S. Defense Department seems unconcerned.

"We are aware of media reports that the Chinese successfully landed an aircraft on the deck of a carrier," said Pentagon press secretary George Little during a briefing with reporters this morning. "This would come as no surprise. We've been monitoring Chinese military developments for some time.

While we here at Killer Apps were enjoying the last day of our Thanksgiving holiday, the Chinese navy was busy conducting its first ever takeoffs and landings from its brand new aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, with brand-new J-15 fighter jets.

Some observers have hailed this as the start of a new era in naval history while others aren’t so impressed. So far, the U.S. Defense Department seems unconcerned.

"We are aware of media reports that the Chinese successfully landed an aircraft on the deck of a carrier," said Pentagon press secretary George Little during a briefing with reporters this morning. "This would come as no surprise. We’ve been monitoring Chinese military developments for some time.

He then went into the Pentagon’s common refrain on all things related to the Chinese military, which essentially amounts to: We’d really like to develop a good working relationship with these guys, but we’d also love to know why Beijing is buying all sorts of weaponry that appears to be designed to keep the U.S. at bay.

"As you know, the overall goal in our relationship with China is to develop a closer military relationship that is more transparent and one that leads to the ability on both sides to promote greater peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region," said Little.

"I’m not aware that we were informed of this particular development, but they’re not required to do so," added Little. "I’m not going to comment on intelligence matters to be sure, but again this does not come as a surprise." 

The Liaoning was built with the hull of an incomplete Soviet carrier that China bought from Ukraine in 1998, claiming that it would be turned into a casino or something. Instead, China completely refurbished the ship, installing new engines, modern electronics, and sensor systems, turning the old hulk into a "starter carrier."  

It’s worth noting that the Chinese ripped off the design of Russia’s Sukhoi Su-27 fighter which Shenyang Aircraft Corporation used to then develop the J-11 land based fighter and now the J-15. Interestingly, the Chinese engineer in charge of the J-15 program died of a heart attack just after watching yesterday’s test flights aboard the ship.

The Liaoning was commissioned two months ago, and China’s naval test pilots have spent years practicing landings and take-offs on landlocked mock-ups of the carrier’s flight deck and later touch-and-go’s aboard the actual ship. Now, they have performed the first of what will be hundreds of carrier takeoffs and landings needed to master the art of carrier ops.

Unconfirmed news reports suggest that China will launch its first domestically-made carrier by the middle of this decade — giving the test pilots operating aboard the Liaoning time to train China’s first crop of naval fighter jocks. Keep in mind that it took decades for the U.S. Navy to master the art of flying planes from pitching and rolling aircraft carriers, so you can bet it will be a while before the Chinese have a truly effective carrier force.

John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing Military.com’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.

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