Monday, November 17, 2008

aircraft carrier

Aircraft carrier
The US navy has 11 aircraft carrier groups Photo: PA

Major General Qian Lihua, a senior official with the ministry of defence, seemed to accept speculation that China was planning to build an aircraft carrier, though he would not confirm when it might be launched.

"The question is not whether you have an aircraft carrier, but what you do with your aircraft carrier," he said.

But he said a carrier fleet would only be used for defence, unlike that of "another country".

"Navies of great powers with more than 10 aircraft carrier battle groups with strategic military objectives have a different purpose from countries with only one or two carriers used for offshore defence," he said.

"Even if one day we have an aircraft carrier, unlike another country, we will not use it to pursue global deployment or global reach." China has issued repeated hints that it is planning to build an aircraft carrier in recent years, and according to Jane's Defence Weekly recently began training 50 pilots for fixed-wing carrier-based aircraft.

But after initial plans were aborted in the 1990s, projected dates for a carrier group taking to the high seas remain unclear. A South Korean newspaper earlier this year reported that a mid-sized carrier was due to be completed by 2010, and a large nuclear-powered one by 2020.

Other analysts say China may already be working on three carriers, but say none is likely to be operational before 2015.

China's main naval priority is to deter American intervention in any conflict over Taiwan. One reason why the country has not yet developed an aircraft carrier fleet, unlike regional rivals like India, is said to be a desire to balance Washington's concern at its rapidly increasing submarine fleet, targeted at American battle groups.

The United States navy has 11 aircraft carrier groups deployed around the world, including one based in Japan.

But this balance may not last much longer, despite warming ties between Beijing and Taiwan.

"The navy of any great power has the dream to have one or more aircraft carriers," Maj Gen Qian said in the interview with The Financial Times.

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