China Plans Carrier Battle Groups
Chinese navy official RAdm. Yin Zhuo told state-owned media this week that the service intends to create aircraft carrier battle groups to “defend China's sovereignty on the islands and reefs, maritime rights and overseas interests,” an apparent reference to the nation's South China Sea claims. RAdm. Zhuo sits on the Expert Consultation Committee for the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
He also cited the importance of defending Chinese citizens abroad by projecting China's military might. “Protecting the economic, political status and occupational safety of overseas Chinese is paramount to safeguarding China’s domestic economic development and its reform and opening-up,” he said.
China presently has one aircraft carrier, the Soviet-built, Chinese-refitted Liaoning, but it reportedly functions as a training ship and does not often venture far from the mainland. The PLAN has one additional carrier under construction at a yard in Dalian, of a design similar to the Soviet-era vessel – including a ski-jump for takeoff rather than a catapult – but with more hangar space for a larger air wing.
In December, China also took delivery of its third Type 052D destroyer, which the PLAN describes as the most advanced China has ever built and a suitable escort for a carrier. "Its larger displacement means it is able to carry more equipment and weapons, and is powerful enough to protect an aircraft carrier battle group in a long-distance operation," said Cao Weidong, researcher at the PLAN Military Studies Research Institute.
Media sources have suggested that China could be acquiring as many as 12 Type 052D destroyers and 22 frigates within the next few years, plus additional carriers. The prospect of new Chinese carrier strike groups adds to the specter of a regional arms race over the South China Sea. Australia is adding significant numbers of submarines, destroyers and frigates to its fleet; the United States has signed an agreement with the Philippines for use of its bases; and Vietnam has purchased six modern Kilo-class submarines from Russia for purposes of patrolling the region.