Chinese Aircraft Carriers: Long in Development, Soon to be Deployed
China's interest in acquiring or producing aircraft carriers has long been clear. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, China has purchased two Kiev class small carriers - the Kiev and Minsk - which are currently floating entertainment parks for tourists but which it must be assumed have been intensely studied. It also completed the purchase and transfer of the Varyag, the uncompleted sister to Russia's only remaining aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. Likely to be the first deployed Chinese aircraft carrier, Varyag is currently undergoing extensive refitting and will likely be launched in order to begin training Chinese sailors and pilots in the successful operation of an aircraft carrier.
But the Varyag, regardless of her condition when completed, is not an indigenous aircraft carrier, and China has shown a great interest in being militarily self-sufficient. Because of this, the launch of a new Chinese aircraft carrier designed and constructed solely by Chinese naval engineers is desirable both for reasons of military independence as well as international prestige. Only a few navies operate aircraft carriers of any size, and of them only the United States, Russia, France, Brazil and India (once the Vikramaditya conversion of the ex-Russian Admiral Gorshkov is completed in 2011) are capable of launching standard fixed wing combat aircraft rather than vertical take-off or landing designs. Britain, having relied on Harrier-carrying Invincible class aircraft carriers since the 1970's, is currently building two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers that will operate the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter when commissioned around 2020. The remaining members of the carrier club- Japan, Thailand, Italy, and Spain- only operate carriers that can launch helicopters and VTOL aircraft such as the Harrier or F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.
Chinese aircraft carriers are expected to be fully capable carriers operating powerful naval aircraft such as the Chinese version of the Su-33 Flanker, the J-15.