Defense: China’s first flattop begins its sea trials, setting the stage for a fleet that eventually will challenge the U.S. and back up its claims to territory that would make the South China Sea a virtual Chinese lake.
Very soon a jet fighter will lift off the deck of a carrier in the Western Pacific. For the very first time its pilot will be Chinese.
China sent its first aircraft carrier, the refurbished ex-Soviet Varyag, to sea on Wednesday, virtually unnoticed among the news about the stock market, our credit rating and the debt ceiling debate.
It is not yet a full-fledged fighting ship. Its mission is to gain experience in carrier operations, particularly for pilots unaccustomed to taking off from and landing on a carrier’s moving deck.
Yet it represents a sea change in potential capability and something that Congress’ bipartisan fiscal supercommittee should ponder as draconian defense cuts remain on the table.
China’s as-yet-unnamed carrier, which will carry a crew of 2,000 and 50 fighter aircraft, slipped quietly out of the port of Dalian early Wednesday — the latest entry in a massive Chinese military buildup designed to challenge us in the Western Pacific and deny us access to the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.
A few weeks ago Chinese Su-27 fighters intercepted a U-2 reconnaissance aircraft that had taken off from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa as part of a routine surveillance program of China. And Beijing issued a warning that such surveillance near its shores will not long be tolerated.
China’s capabilities have taken a quantum leap since a Chinese J-8 jet collided with a U.S. EP-3 surveillance jet in April 2001 off Hainan, the island that now has a base for Chinese ballistic missile and attack submarines.
China in recent years has laid claims to Japan’s Senkaku Islands, the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and has conducted at least nine incursions into Philippines-claimed territory.
Beijing’s goal is to secure the waters from Japan’s home islands, along the Ryukyu chain, through Taiwan and to the Strait of Malacca, encompassing the South China Sea.
Chinese government writings refer to the waters surrounding China as blue soil. Where governments used to draw a line in the sand, Beijing is preparing to draw a line in what other governments view as international waters.
Last week, the state newspaper People’s Daily warned of “dire consequences” if Beijing is challenged in the South China Sea.
To that end, it has been building a sizable number of missile-armed fast attack boats carrying YJ-82 supersonic, anti-ship cruise missiles designed to attack U.S. warships.
It is deploying its carrier-killing mobile missile, the Dong Feng 21D. It is also preparing to flight-test the J-20, its version of a fifth-generation stealth fighter expected to further tilt the balance of power in the Western Pacific. China’s plans include the deployment of two aircraft carriers of its own by 2015.
China acknowledges that it will take at least a decade to deploy a full-fledged combat-ready carrier battle group, but the world’s oldest civilization is willing to patiently wait for its moment. The country is for the most part following former supreme leader Deng Xiaoping’s advice to “hide our capacities and bide our time, be good at maintaining a low profile.”
We will be hard-pressed to meet the emerging Chinese threat when our Navy has only 286 ships (down 45% from 1991, when it had 529) and continues to shrink.
We’ve closed the F-22 Raptor production lines, and even some in the Tea Party are insisting on defense cuts to make up for our spending follies.
Defense is a constitutional imperative, not an optional budget item. We’d better pay attention to that Chinese carrier.