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Meet the world’s newest super carrier, made entirely in China

China’s new unnamed home-built aircraft carrier leaves Dalian in northeast China’s Liaoning Province for sea trials Sunday, May 13, 2018. (Li Gang/Xinhua via AP)

China’s first aircraft carrier built entirely in its own shipyard, the giant unnamed Type 001A modified Kuznetsov-class flattop, set out from Dalian (old Tsarist Port Arthur from the Russo-Japanese War for those military history buffs) on builder’s sea trials Sunday morning.

“Our country’s second aircraft carrier set sail from its dock in the Dalian shipyard for relevant waters to conduct a sea trial mission, mainly to inspect and verify the reliability and stability of mechanical systems and other equipment,” Reuters quoted the official Xinhua news agency as saying.

Unlike Type 001 carrier Liaoning, which was originally laid down in 1985 for the Soviet Navy as the Kuznetsov-class aircraft cruiser Riga and only completed in 2012 after an epic 27-year saga, the new Type 001A was built wholly in China and could be a sign of things to come.

Laid down in Nov. 2013, she is expected to be operational sometime next year, a production cycle that took just six years and rivals that of the current Ford-class (although it should be pointed out that class-leader, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), had her first steel cut in 2005, was officially laid down in 2009, commissoned last year, and is not expected to deploy until 2020)

Chinese to build 2nd domestic carrier, bigger, better. Have 4 CVBGs by 2030s

November 2017- “China’s first operational aircraft carrier arrived in Hong Kong for the first time in a display of military might less than a week after a high-profile visit by President Xi Jinping. The Liaoning steamed into port with its escort of two guided missile destroyers and a missile frigate, dropping anchor at a naval base across from the skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island.” (Reuters)

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) of China made it official last week and said they started work on their second Type 001A class aircraft carrier, CV18, back in October of last year. It will use an electromagnetic aircraft launch system and displace somewhere on the order of 80,000-tons, making it the largest Chinese warship ever built and second only to a modern U.S. fleet carrier.

The PLAN has actually been in the carrier business in part since the mid-1970s, a dream realized in part when they picked up the retired Majestic-class light carriers HMAS Melbourne (R21) in 1984. Though she had 868,893 nautical miles on her and was a mess, the Chinese slowly disassembled the WWII-design over a 15 year period and reportedly made extensive notes on her construction and steam catapult and landing systems as first steps towards their own carrier program. Reportedly, the Chinese Navy reverse-engineered a land-based replica of Melbourne‘s cat by 1987 and has used it in a series of trials of their own carrier-based aircraft.

The PLAN further compared the 1940s British carrier to that of the 1970s Soviet helicopter carriers Kiev and Minsk, purchased in the 1990s as floating amusement parks for tourists, to help with their own best practices in flattop construction moving forward. Then came the 67,000-ton Admiral Kuznetsov-class strike carrier, laid down as the Soviet carrier Varyag in 1985, and finally completed by the Chinese in 2011 as Liaoning after she was sold in 1998 by the Ukrainians as a floating casino (!).

China’s first locally built carrier, the Type 001A aircraft carrier or CV-17, a modified Kuznetsov based on the Liaoning improvements, was launched on 26 April 2017 and is fitting out with a completion date expected sometime around 2020 as the carrier Shi Lang. The yard reportedly is using lots of Ukrainian experts and a staff of 5,000 skilled shipbuilders.

China plans to have four aircraft carrier battle groups in service by 2030, according to naval experts, with Liaoning and three progressively better Type 001A class vessels as the centerpiece.

Chinese carrier ‘ Liaoning with escorts. Photos via Chinese Internet

Team Navy is really pushing Distributed Lethality– now with electrolytes!

Adm. T.S. Rowden, Commander, Naval Surface Force, on the joys of “DL” — the future of warfighting:

Distributed Lethality requires increasing the offensive and defensive capability of surface forces, and guides deliberate resource investment for modernization and for the future force. Providing more capabilities across surface forces yields more options for Geographic Combatant Commanders in peace and war.

In order to achieve the desired outcome of this strategy, we must rededicate the force to attain and sustain sea control, retain the best and the brightest, develop and provide advanced tactical training, and equip our ships with improved offensive weapons, sensors, and hard kill/soft kill capabilities. Pursuing these ends will enhance our capability and capacity to go on the offensive and to defeat multiple attacks. By providing a more powerful deterrent, we will dissuade the first act of aggression, and failing that, we will respond to an attack in kind by inflicting damage of such magnitude that it compels an adversary to cease hostilities, and render it incapable of further aggression.

15-page Surface Forces Strategy “Distributed Lethality: Return to Sea Control” pamphlet here

Chinese carrier ‘Liaoning’ looking more and more operational

The above footage, posted  last week by Chinese media, shows the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s only aircraft carrier, Liaoning, deploying with a couple of escorts at sea and moving around some Shenyang J-15 (China’s modded Su-33) fighters on deck. The blueberry camoed (oh come on!) crew even gets in some pretty decent flight ops in beautiful weather and calm seas.

Around the 3-minute mark there is a good bit of canned footage of self-defense weapons tests of a 30mm CIWS and a Flying Leopard 3000 Naval (FL-3000N) RAM-type system.

The 67,000-ton Admiral Kuznetsov-class strike carrier took some 29 years to build and switched hands at least three times during that process before the PLAN finally put her in fleet service in 2012.

The ski jump is very different…

An anti-ship missile, an anti-ship missile, my kingdom for an anti-ship missile!

CDR Salamader’s blog over at USNI cued me into just how bad the West-Pac missile gap is between the USN and PLAN:

From the Autumn issue of the Naval War College Review, Lieutenant Alan Cummings, USN, has a must-read article, A Thousand Splendid Guns. 

I’ll let you read the full article, but there are two images that provides an overview of our ASCM shortfall in crisp profile.

ascm ship

When looking at the Chinese Navy in WESTPAC, how do our surface units that can or should carry ASCM line up – just in quantity?

In short, we have no problem meeting the Chinese in naval tonnage, but they have a huge advantage in distributed lethality by having way more platforms, each filled with (often longer range) ASCMs, making it possible to smother a U.S. task force or two with hundreds of incoming ship killers.

Sure, we have Aegis and lots of SM-2s, so we can swat a lot, but what of taking out those Chinese frigates and destroyers in turn? Our own Harpoon program has been whittled down so far over the years that we’d have to bank on submarines (who may be up to their necks in schools of PLAN smoke boats already), lucky TLAMs and even SM-2s used in surface mode to help even the odds.

As for our closest naval allies, the Royal Navy is expected to be left without an ASCM capability between 2018-2020. Such a gap is being caused by the planned retirement of the Sea Skua missile in early 2017 and the 2018 retirement of the SWS60 Harpoon. A limited anti-ship capability will only return when the Sea Venom/ANL lightweight anti-ship missile is equipped on the Wildcat HMA.2 helicopter in late 2020 and that is mainly meant to take out small FAC-style vessels. No funded program is in place by the UK for a Harpoon replacement, however.

Good thing the Army is looking into cross-domain fires. As PAC commander Adm. Harry Harris says, “I think the Army should be in the business of sinking ships with land-based ballistic missiles.”

Sea Hunter takes her TALON out to play

We’ve talked about DARPA’s 132-foot USV robot subchaser, the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV), dubbed Sea Hunter, a few times already this year.

The ship’s projected $20 million all-up price tag and its $15,000 to $20,000 daily operating cost make it relatively inexpensive to operate. For comparison, a single Littoral Combat Ship runs $432 million (at least LCS-6 did) to build and run about $220K a day to operate– but of course that is a moving target.

We’ve also talked about their Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS) U-boat kite program which is a low-cost, fully automated parafoil system designed to extend maritime vessels’ long-distance communications and improve their domain awareness.

Towed behind boats or ships, TALONS could carry intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and communications payloads of up to 150 pounds between 500 and 1,500 feet in altitude—many times higher than current ships’ masts—and greatly extend the equipment’s range and effectiveness.

So it makes sense that now video has emerged from DARPA of Sea Hunter taking its para-sail for a drag.

Now if they Navy can just cough up 50-100 of these, with ASW weapons and an automated C-RAM to avoid being splashed by enemy aircraft wholesale, and keep it from running $30 billion– then you have a real sea control ship when it comes to denying an area to the bad guy’s subs.

Everything old is new again in 1960s tactical nukes

In 1961, Los Alamos National Laboratory started work on a project known then as TX-61 to come up with a 700~ pound tactical nuclear bomb with a yield that could range from 0.3-340 KT of glow in the dark.

Put into production at the Pantex Plant (Zone 11) near Amarillo, Texas in 1968, an estimated 3,155 B61 bombs were completed by the 1970s and, with the steady paring down of Russo-American nuclear stockpiles in the START and SALT treaties as others, the current number of operational devices stands at around 1,200 with only about 200 deployed.

The old school B61 (DOE image)

The old school B61 (DOE image). Seems pretty simple.

Today the B61-3, -4, -7, and -10 series bombs, most of which are stockpiled on U.S. bases abroad such as in Europe and the Pacific, are the oldest items in the American nuclear triad and it is doubtful they could penetrate ultra modern strategic C4I facilities deep underground such as the ones believed to exist in Russia, China, DPRK and Iran, built since the 1990s, which can run over 1,000 feet deep and are protected by granite.

Still, they serve as something of “NATO’s Nukes” giving regional powers such as Italy, Spain, Germany and Turkey the nominal capability to carry an American-owned nuke under extreme circumstances (a B61 can be toted aloft by a Tornado or F-16).

Last week, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) announced they formally authorized the production engineering phase of its B61-12 warhead life extension program (LEP), which will include some capability for deep digging, dial-a-yield warheads, upgraded guidance packages and tail units.

The new B61-12, graphic by engadget

The new B61-12, graphic by engadget

“Reaching this next phase of the B61-12 LEP is a major achievement for NNSA and the exceptionally talented scientists and engineers whose work underpins this vital national security mission,” said NNSA Administrator Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz (Ret.). “Currently, the B61 contains the oldest components in the U.S. arsenal. This LEP will add at least an additional 20 years to the life of the system.”

They expect it to be able to send the B83-1—the last megaton-class weapon in America’s nuclear arsenal— into retirement when the program gets fully fleshed out by 2020.

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