Nation sets sights on bigger carrier

Updated: 2013-04-25 02:50

By WANG XIAODONG (China Daily)

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China's second aircraft carrier will be bigger than the current one, and more aircraft carriers may be built to safeguard the nation's oceanic interests, a senior officer with China's navy forces said.

"The next aircraft carrier we need will be larger and carry more fighters," Song Xue, vice-chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army navy, said on Tuesday in Beijing at a ceremony to mark the 64th anniversary of the founding of the PLA navy, according to Xinhua News Agency.

He denied foreign media reports that China is building new aircraft carriers in Shanghai and promised the navy will invite foreign military attaches to visit the Liaoning, China's only aircraft carrier.

Liaoning was refitted based on a Russian-made unfinished carrier and delivered to the navy in September. It has a full displacement of more than 50,000 metric tons.

China, with a coastline extending 18,000 km and oceanic territories covering 3 million sq km, is the last one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to have an aircraft carrier.

"One aircraft carrier is far from enough for China's navy," said Quan Linyuan, a professor at the PLA's National Defense University. "To meet the needs of the navy, five to seven aircraft carriers are needed."

Three aircraft carriers are needed at least so they can form combat forces, with one on duty and the others in training and under maintenance, he said.

Capacity of the second aircraft carrier may range from 50,000 tons to 80,000 tons, Quan said.

The new aircraft carrier will mostly likely to be deployed in the South China Sea, where China has territorial disputes with several countries, he said.

A major challenge facing the PLA navy is a lack of qualified aircraft pilots.

"Cultivation and training of the pilots is urgent," he said.

Media reports have speculation that the PLA navy's next carrier could possibly have nuclear propulsion.

"China already has the technology and industrial capability to develop and build a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier," Du Wenlong, a senior researcher at the PLA's Academy of Military Science, told China Daily in an interview.

Quan agreed and said building such an aircraft carrier is within the navy's capacity.

"We have nuclear-powered submarines, which require more sophisticated technology, so there are no obstacles to developing a nuclear-powered carrier."

Si Yu, a college student and military fan in Beijing, said, "It is right to build more aircraft carriers, but talent-building is also important. With so many sophisticated systems to operate, those operating aircraft carriers should be sufficiently qualified, especially the commander."

During Tuesday's speech, Song, vice-chief of staff of the PLA navy, also revealed that the navy is building an aviation force for the Liaoning, and there will be at least two aviation regiments on one carrier, including fighters, reconnaissance aircraft, anti-submarine aircraft, electronic countermeasure planes and rotary-wing aircraft.

Qin Zhongwei and Xinhua contributed to this story.