Thursday, December 11, 2008

Analysis: Ukraine aids China carrier plan

China is serious now on the aircraft carrier construction.

Analysis: Ukraine aids China carrier plan

by Andrei Chang

The People's Republic of China has been sending military personnel to the former Soviet republic of Ukraine to learn how the country trains its aircraft carrier pilots, in preparation for the aircraft carrier battle group it eventually plans to build.

According to a source in the Ukrainian military industry, China first sent a large naval delegation, headed by the deputy chief of the People's Liberation Army navy, to visit the Ukrainian navy aviation force training centers in the southern port cities of Odessa and Sevastopol in October 2006.

The Chinese visited the Research Test and Flying Training Center at Nitka on the Crimean peninsula, and the two sides discussed the possibility of Ukraine helping to train China's navy aviation force and aircraft carrier pilots, the source said. Since then, Chinese engineers, pilots and naval technical experts have made frequent visits to Nitka.

The focus of much of China's current military cooperation with the Russian Federation and Ukraine is on producing large aircraft and an aircraft carrier. Ukraine has provided China with a prototype of its T-10K shipborne fighter. By dissecting the T-10K -- an earlier variant of the Sukhoi Su-33 fighter -- China hopes to acquire the capability to independently develop its own shipborne fighters.

The single T-10K that China purchased from Ukraine originally was based at the Nitka center, which is equipped with a range of simulators to train pilots in jump takeoffs, arresting landings and contingency responses. The training modules simulate the release of the arresting hook on takeoff and its use on landing at a speed of 155 miles per hour.

The Nitka center previously trained a generation of Soviet pilots on the Sukhoi Su-33 and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29K fighters. Now the 297th Fighter Regiment of the Russian navy aviation force is undergoing training there.

As this author reported earlier for United Press International, China has imported four sets of aircraft carrier landing assistance equipment and arresting hooks. The Chinese are in the process of building their own aircraft carrier training base, which is why they have been so keenly interested in Nitka's simulators, training software, management procedures and technologies.

The training of aircraft carrier fighter pilots is a crucial step in putting together an aircraft carrier fleet. The training program is extremely harsh. According to the Ukrainian source, the most basic training for short-distance takeoffs, landings and ski-jumps would take at least six months.

Ukraine was once the main training center for the Soviet Union's aircraft carrier fighter pilots. It now intends to train navy pilots not only for China but also for India and other countries that aspire to possess aircraft carriers, a source from Nitka told United Press International.

The Indian navy is in the process of purchasing an aircraft carrier from Russia, as well as Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29K and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29UBK fighters, the first batch of which is expected to be delivered to India by the end of the year -- already a year later than scheduled. The pilots for those fighters most likely will be trained at Nitka.

China's dealings with Ukraine reconfirm that the People's Liberation Army navy is moving forward on its aircraft carrier project. The Chinese carrier apparently is based on a Russian design; otherwise China would not be interested in Ukraine's simulators. This means China's aircraft carrier very likely will adopt the Russian methods of ski-jump takeoff and landing.

China has also taken practical steps to build an aircraft carrier training base. The first step is to train shipborne fighter pilots at this base, followed by basic short-distance takeoff and landing training on the disabled Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag that China purchased in 1998.

Sources from the Ukrainian military industry have confirmed to United Press International on several occasions that the Varyag is unlikely to be restored to an operational fighter aircraft carrier, and most likely will be used only as a training platform.

Although the ship was purchased by a Hong Kong company ostensibly to be converted into a casino, Ukrainian sources told United Press International that they were aware of China's intentions from the beginning to use it for military purposes. The aircraft carrier, repainted with the colors of the PLA navy, is now in the Chinese port city of Dalian.

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