Russia and China: Starting an Aircraft Carrier Alliance?

Aircraft Carrier Operations U.S. Navy
March 5, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaChinaMilitaryDefenseNavyAircraft CarrierUkraine

Russia and China: Starting an Aircraft Carrier Alliance?

China's expanding aircraft carrier fleet and its strategic partnership with Russia hint at a deeper military cooperation that could alter global naval dynamics.

Summary: China's expanding aircraft carrier fleet and its strategic partnership with Russia hint at a deeper military cooperation that could alter global naval dynamics. While China's carriers are viewed by some as symbolic, their real value may lie in Beijing's broader military strategy, emphasizing missile capabilities to challenge U.S. dominance in the Indo-Pacific. Russia's historical naval ambitions and current limitations suggest a mutual interest in this collaboration. Increased Sino-Russian naval cooperation, potentially including China aiding Russia in developing its aircraft carrier capabilities, would further their strategic objectives against the U.S., signaling a significant shift in global naval power balances.

Will China Propel Russia's Naval Ambitions with Aircraft Carrier Technology?

The Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy continues to grow its fleet of aircraft carriers. Each vessel is more advanced than the last, yet there is some question about the purpose of this investment. After all, China's maritime strategy focuses less on the offensive capabilities of its aircraft carrier fleet, and more on Beijing’s vast arsenal of long- and medium-range missiles that can threaten U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific with alarming precision. 

Is China's aircraft carrier capability just for show, as some Western observers have speculated? Or is there something more to it? 

Russia and China: Frenemies for Life

China aims to become the world's dominant power by 2049, the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Beijing also fancies itself the hub for the world's great industrial activities. For years, China has worked to rival and surpass the United States and Russia as the leading producer of global armaments. 

From cheap drones to cheap missiles, China is a major player in the world's arms market. But Beijing wants more than small arms and autonomous weapons platforms. They want legacy systems. 

What Russia Wants

For their part, the Russians have yearned to become a dominant naval power since the time of Peter the Great. The need for warm-water ports is but one of many challenges to Moscow's centuries-old desire to field a potent navy. Why Russia wastes time and money maintaining its lone, broken-down aircraft carrier has long been a matter of international wonder. The reason, though, is that Moscow fears the loss of a key capability – aircraft carrier operations. It wants to scale up this capability by creating a force of aircraft carriers. 

Russia, though, has struggled to create and mass-produce a reliable aircraft carrier of its own. That might one day change, given how close both Russia and China have become, especially since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the Western sanctions against Moscow that followed. 

Given China's desire to become the world's leading weapons manufacturer, and Russia's fantasies of becoming a major naval power with global power-projection capabilities, what is to prevent these two nations from further aligning through the production and deployment of aircraft carriers? Russia wants them, and China is proving it can mass-produce them. China wants Russia to be more of a fly in the strategic ointment for the United States. Beijing sees Moscow as a means to distract and drain the U.S. military, boosting China’s ability to accomplish their own revanchist goals in their part of the world.

China Will Sell Russia Aircraft Carriers to Spite the Americans

Selling Russia some Chinese-built aircraft carriers would only help Beijing in its great chaos strategy. What's more, cooperation has increased between the Chinese and Russian navies – notably in the Pacific – over the last several years. China providing Russia with some aircraft carriers would further solidify a Sino-Russian alliance and complicate life for the U.S. Navy.

China and Russia are already in deep cooperation, and it is still growing. It's only a matter of time before the dragon teaches the bear how to swim. 

About the Author

Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.