August 4, 2011: A few weeks after state-controlled Chinese media revealed that the new Chinese aircraft carrier, the Shi Lang (formerly Varyag) will be used mainly for training, cell phone photos appeared online showing that the Shi Lang has recently been testing its engines. Much smoke could be seen coming from the stack on the ship, a sign that new engines were being put through their paces. Nighttime photos showed many of the ship's lights turned on, more so than in the past when the ship was getting its electrical power from a shore connection.
Meanwhile, China continues to publicize its new program for naval aviators, with over a hundred students involved so far. Rumors that the Shi Lang will head out for sea trials by the end of the Summer, appear to be true.
In addition to the engines being worked up, and all the lights turned on, in the last few months the Shi Lang has had all of its weapons installed. The government officially admitted recently that the Shi Lang actually exists.
Shi Lang/Varyag is one of the Kuznetsov class carriers that Russia began building in the 1980s. Originally the Kuznetsovs were to be 90,000 ton, nuclear powered ships, similar to American carriers (complete with steam catapults). Instead, because of the high cost, and the complexity of modern (American style) carriers, the Russians were forced to scale back their plans, and ended up with 65,000 ton (full load) ships that lacked steam catapults, and used a ski jump type flight deck instead. Nuclear power was dropped, but the Kuznetsov class was still a formidable design. The 323 meter (thousand foot) long ship normally carries a dozen navalized Su-27s (called Su-33s), 14 Ka-27PL anti-submarine helicopters, two electronic warfare helicopters and two search and rescue helicopters. But the ship was meant to regularly carry 36 Su-33s and sixteen helicopters. The ship carries 2,500 tons of aviation fuel, allowing it to generate 500-1,000 aircraft and helicopter sorties. Crew size is 2,500 (or 3,000 with a full aircraft load.) Only two ships of this class exist; the original Kuznetsov, which is in Russian service, and the Varyag.
China is believed to be building the first of several locally designed aircraft carriers, but little is known of this project. The only official announcements have alluded to the need for two or three aircraft carriers, in addition to the Shi Lang. Construction of such large ships has not yet been seen in any shipyard.