Coming soon: The first Chinese aircraft carrier

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun cites a report from the State Oceanic Administration saying that China will complete construction of its first aircraft carrier by 2014, something the government never previously admitted. Constructed primarily at Shanghai, the carrier is supposed to displace between 50,000 and 60,000 tons. And it’s part of an even larger effort by the People’s Liberation Army Navy to “build itself up as a maritime power” during the next decade: a nuclear powered carrier is supposed to be completed by 2020. All of that should be taken with a grain of salt, but navy experts generally consider building a carrier to be well within Chinese capabilities…

Naval analyst Raymond Pritchett isn’t so concerned about the first Chinese aircraft carrier, figuring it to be long overdue. Given the health of China’s shipbuilding industry, Pritchett forecasts that over the next five years, “we can expect steady construction of conventional and nuclear submarines, more coastal combat vessels, a large block of maritime patrol vessels, steady construction of frigate sized surface combatants, steady construction of amphibious vessels, and now steady construction of aircraft carriers.”

Matching China ship-for-ship would be a “losing proposition,” Pritchett continues, advising instead to inject “some serious focus onto our larger surface combatant force and finding ways to responsibly add value to our national aircraft carrier, amphibious vessel, and littoral combat ship investments.” And then there’s always the ship-killers.