Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Carrier In the Cornfield – PLAN Aircraft Carrier Program Advancing

EWTOWN, Conn.:- The Chinese Navy's aircraft carrier program appears to be picking up momentum with Chinese news sources reporting two major steps forward in the development of the necessary systems for these ships.
The most remarkable of these steps is the construction of what appears to be a hybrid of an office building and an aircraft carrier. This has already been dubbed the "Carrier in the Cornfield" in reference to the famous U.S. Naval Surface Warfare "Cruiser in the Cornfield" facility at Moorestown, NJ. The New Jersey facility was used to test out the AEGIS air warfare system and subsequently provided a research capability to test new items of equipment under carefully controlled conditions. It is likely that the Chinese facility is intended for similar work.
Aircraft and helicopters are frequently seen on the roof of this building. It appears that current efforts are aimed at developing the operational art needed for on-deck operations and flow, and then on training PLAN personnel in these functions. It also appears that the dummy superstructure on the roof of this facility is being used to test the phased-array radars being developed for the new carriers. It can be assumed that the facility is also being used to check for electromagnetic interference between the radar and the aircraft. One thing can safely be assumed - the Chinese are not landing aircraft on the roof of the building. The aircraft there are being lifted into position by a crane.
The other new development is based on reports that Shenyang is designing a new J-15 naval fighter, possibly using technologies from its next-generation fighter bid for J-14, which appears to have been rejected in favor of Chengdu's design. Whether this is a development of the Su-33 (one example of which was reportedly purchased from Ukraine in 2001) or a completely new design is unknown.
A J-15 prototype was seen parked at the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation airfield in May 2010, revealing its arresting hook retracted beneath the redesigned tailcone, enlarged folding wings, strengthened landing gears with twin nosewheels, and a pair of small canard foreplanes to improve its low-speed handling.
These developments suggest that the CPLAN is very serious about establishing a carrier-based aviation arm. The degree of research that is under way speaks of a well-planned and systematic approach to developing an indigenous carrier force.
The more interesting question is, why have the Chinese allowed this information to appear at this time? It is most unlikely they did so to satisfy the curiosity of Western naval analysts. A more likely hypothesis is that there is conflict between those who see the Chinese fleet as a primarily coastal defense force and those who envision a more assertive power projection role.
For the last few years, the former group has appeared to dominate the debate, with Chinese major surface combatant construction slowed to a crawl while the building of frigates and fast attack craft has accelerated.
Releasing information on carrier design and development may well be a ploy to use Western reaction to these programs as a way of motivating the Chinese authorities into increasing support for the carrier program.

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