For the first time in history, China is operating two carriers together in simultaneous training missions to refine attack tactics and closely approach and ability to conduct dual-carrier operations.
Citing various news reports, the Chinese-backed Global Times said China’s first carrier, the Liaoning was “spotted” in the Yellow Sea and that China’s second carrier, the “Shandong” concurrently embarked upon a training voyage in the Bohai Sea.
“This was the first time known to the general public that China had two active aircraft carriers out at sea for apparent simultaneous exercises,” the paper says.
The paper goes on to quote a Beijing-expert called Li Jie as saying two Chinese carriers could “squeeze the island of Taiwan from different angles.” In this context, the report adds that, alongside a dual-carrier presence, China’s DF-21D and DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missiles could deny possible “U.S. intervention.”
Interestingly, the Chinese move toward dual-carriers attack preparations could clearly be interpreted as a specific and visible attempt to mirror, or match, U.S. capabilities in the Pacific. On multiple occasions recently, the U.S. Navy has conducted dual-carrier attack drills in the Pacific theater, demonstrating an ability to coordinate massive, integrated maritime carrier air wing attacks. Through effective networking, two carriers can stagger launches, integrate mission objectives, and optimize sortie rate mission flow by tailoring it to particular mission needs.
Dual-carrier attack options extend the Navy’s ability to hit inland targets to a larger extent, extend target-searching dwell time, and enable coordinated multi-platform strikes, but they also greatly improve destroyer-and-cruiser launched missile attacks.
Each Carrier Strike Group consists of a carrier, cruiser, and two destroyers, a dynamic designed to bring a large, integrated combination of sea-launched assets. Multi-carrier attacks are designed to succeed by virtue of elaborate networking, command and control, and air-confliction efforts while doubling firepower, surveillance potential, and weapons capability.
China’s moves demonstrate that this kind of tactical maritime advantage may no longer be restricted to the U.S. but may instead be part of China’s growing effort to achieve parity, if not overmatch, with the U.S. While current Chinese carrier maneuvers may not yet parallel U.S. power-projection capabilities, there is fast-growing concern regarding China’s pace of carrier-construction, ship-building resources and overall fleet expansion.
China is planning a massive 85,000 ton, 40-plus aircraft-strong high-tech carrier engineered with an electromagnetic catapult and a much greater attack range than its first carriers.
The third carrier, identified as a Type 002 carrier, is reported to have a displacement of 80,000 tons and be able to operate a carrier air wing of more than 40 fixed-wing fighters. While conventionally powered, as opposed to the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered carriers, the Type 002 will greatly expand China’s air attack range and power-projection capability on a truly global scale.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.