December 21, 2004
China is up to something with its second hand Russian aircraft carrier, the Varyag. After spending over $50 million to buy the unfinished 67,000 ton Varyag, and tow it to the Chinese naval base at Dalian, work continues to do Well, no one is quite sure. Originally, the Varyag was bought, for three times its scrap value, by a Chinese front company (that turned out to be owned by the Chinese navy). Their stated intention was to convert the ship into a floating casino in Macao (near Hong Kong). This turned out to be a cover story, to get Turkey to allow the Varyag to be towed out of the Black Sea. Theres an international treaty that allows Turkey to control what warships pass through the Turkish controlled entrance to the Black Sea, so the Chinese had to make it look like the Varyag was no longer going to be used as a warship. The Chinese then spent $30 million, and 627 days, to tow the engineless Varyag to a Chinese naval base. That was two years ago.
Since then, refurbishment work has slowly continued on the Varyag. Parts of the ship have been rebuilt, and electronic equipment has been installed. But the Varyag is nowhere near ready to go to sea. Originally designed to operate the Su-27 fighter (which the Chinese have). To further complicate matters, the Chinese have been seen conducting flight exercises from a mock up of a 20,000 ton class aircraft carrier. Such a carrier, the former Australian HMAS Melbourne was sold for scrap in 1985, and broken up in Dalian, China. Apparently Chinese naval architects took careful notes as the Melbourne was broken up. Now learning how to operate aircraft from a Melbourne class carrier is not much help for anyone planning to put a larger Varyag class carrier to work. So the Chinese appear to be working on the utility of building smaller carriers as well.
Then again, both small carriers, and a refurbished Varyag, could be useful for carrying troops, and operating helicopters, during an invasion of Taiwan. So whatever the Chinese are doing with aircraft carrier development, they have spent over $100 million on it so far and appear determined to learn as much as they can.