China Strengthens Navy Base In South China Sea For Aircraft Carriers

The article below is from Forbes.  Visit the source for an embedded Tweet accompanying the article.

China Strengthens Navy Base In South China Sea For Aircraft Carriers

Aug. 26, 2020

H I Sutton

I cover the changing world of underwater warfare.

New intelligence suggests that China will soon have its aircraft carriers permanently based in the South China Sea. The Chinese Navy, known as the PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy), is strengthening a strategic base on Hainan. It appears that a gigantic dry dock is being built, big enough for an aircraft carrier. Together with a pier already visited by the carriers, this suggests that they will be stationed there. Currently the carriers spend a lot of their time further north.

The new suspected dry dock is large enough for China's aircraft carriers
The new suspected dry dock, of a type known as a Graving Dock, is large enough for China’s aircraft carriers.  H I SUTTON, IMAGERY FROM KOMPSAT. | ACQUIRED THROUGH SHADOWBREAK INTL

Dry docks are important for maintaining warships in fighting condition. But aircraft carriers need special facilities to handle their size. The new one being built on Hainan is almost the perfect size for China’s carriers. It is much larger than would be expected for destroyers or submarines, and is inside a protected harbor. All of this points towards the aircraft carrier hypothesis.

The new dry dock is near the entrance to the inner harbor, where a sizable part of China’s non-nuclear submarines are based. Larger nuclear submarines are based slightly further along the coast in the next bay, which is part of the same ‘Yulin’ base complex. This includes an underground tunnel where submarines can be protected from air strikes. Yulin is China’s most important navy base in terms of the assets based there. The nuclear submarines include China’s Type-094 ballistic missile submarines. One of the surveillance platforms that China has placed in the South China sea is just along the coast. The carriers will further increase the strategic importance of the base.

China currently has two aircraft carriers in service and a third is under construction in Shanghai. The first ship, CV-16 Liaoning, is 67,500 tons, 999 feet long and 246 feet across. The second ship, CV-17 Shandong, is slightly longer at 1,033 feet. They are equipped with J-15 fighters, the Chinese Navy variant of the Russian-designed Sukhoi Flanker family.

Chinese fighter jets can also deploy to some of the Chinese controlled reefs and islands in the area. There is a large runway on Woody Island in the Paracel Islands which recently hosted J-11B Flanker jets and then JH-7 anti-ship strike fighters. However, the aircraft carriers will greatly increase China’s firepower in the region. China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including waters and islands controlled, or claimed, by other countries. Consequently, China has territorial disputes with all the other countries in the area. None have military or naval capabilities to compare with China however. And this gap will widen with routine deployment of aircraft carriers.

Looking back through historic satellite imagery we can see that work on the dock began in 2016. At that time only CV-16 Liaoning was in service with the PLAN. Now it appears to be nearing completion. A permanent Chinese carrier presence in the South China Sea may start sooner rather than later.

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I manage two blogs - Elle's Adventure in China (EACh) and Read and Write Here (R&WH). EACh currently has China-related content from reputable news sources. R&WH is to express my creativity through writing, art, jewelry, and to inform others.

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