China's Aircraft Carrier "Combat Ready"

Almost two decades after buying the hull from Ukraine in 1998, China's sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has finally been declared combat ready

By Business Insider's Alex Lockie

Almost two decades after buying the hull from Ukraine in 1998, China's sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has finally been declared combat ready.

China's aircraft carrier, as well as the rest of its rapidly modernizing navy, puts Beijing in an elite club with the greatest naval powers in the world. The development has raised eyebrows in the Pacific and globally, as China ignores international lawbuilds and militarizes artificial islands in the South China Sea, and threatens and bullies its neighbors.

In the slides below, see how China's Liaoning stacks up to other carriers worldwide:

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This is China's only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. Like much of China's military hardware, the Liaoning is a reworking of an older Russian-made model.

This is China's only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. Like much of China's military hardware, the Liaoning is a reworking of an older Russian-made model.
The Liaoning docked at Dalian Port, in Dalian, Liaoning province, in 2012.REUTERS/Stringer

The Soviet style of carrier, which Russia and China still use, has a different purpose than the US's flat top carriers. Instead of being a truly global strike carrier, these carriers make more sense for coastal defense.

The Liaoning's particulars and capabilities sound impressive.

Source: Jeff Head

Over the last four years, China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) had to build up carrier operations out of nothing. It has never operated an aircraft carrier before, so it faced a steep learning curve.

Over the last four years, China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) had to build up carrier operations out of nothing. It has never operated an aircraft carrier before, so it faced a steep learning curve.
J-15 Flying Shark aircraft on the Liaoning's deck.Global Times via Zhang Kai

The Liaoning launches planes off a "ski-jump" style deck because it lacks the catapults that US carriers have.

The Liaoning launches planes off a "ski-jump" style deck because it lacks the catapults that US carriers have.
Two J-15 Flying Shark aircraft sit on the Liaoning's ski-slope platform.Global Times via Zhang Kai

This means that the J-15 Flying Shark aircraft that take off from the Liaoning can't carry as much fuel or as many bombs as the US's carrier based planes can. This greatly limits their range and effectiveness in combat.

But while the planes must travel light, the Liaoning boasts a heavy arsenal of its own.

But while the planes must travel light, the Liaoning boasts a heavy arsenal of its own.
The Liaoning launches a Flying Leopard missile.Global Times via Zhang Kai

China has announced building at least one other carrier. Here satellite imagery reveals the second carrier will have a modular design, but still conform to the ski-jump" mold of the Liaoning.

China has announced building at least one other carrier. Here satellite imagery reveals the second carrier will have a modular design, but still conform to the  ski-jump" mold of the Liaoning.
A second carrier on par with the Liaoning would arguably make China one of the world's largest aircraft carrier power.Stratfor / Digital Globe

Source: Business Insider

The Admiral Kuznetsov, which the Liaoning is based on, is Russia's sole aircraft carrier. The ships have the same size and speed, and they both feature the "ski-jump" platform.

The Admiral Kuznetsov, which the Liaoning is based on, is Russia's sole aircraft carrier. The ships have the same size and speed, and they both feature the "ski-jump" platform.
Russia's Admiral Kuznetsov.WorldwideAircraftCarriers

The Kuznetsov, currently carrying out its first combat deployment in the Mediterranean bolstering the Syrian regime, has a troubled past plagued with mechanical difficulties. Everywhere it sails, a tug boat accompanies it in case it breaks down, as was the case in 2012.

The Kuznetsov, currently carrying out its first combat deployment in the Mediterranean bolstering the Syrian regime, has a troubled past plagued with mechanical difficulties. Everywhere it sails, a tug boat accompanies it in case it breaks down, as was the case in 2012.
Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier.Mil.ru via Wikimedia Commons

China's southern neighbor India operates two smaller aircraft carriers with a third in production, but they are more reliable. In 2014, the Liaoning experienced unexpected power failures while at sea.

China's southern neighbor India operates two smaller aircraft carriers with a third in production, but they are more reliable. In 2014, the Liaoning experienced unexpected power failures while at sea.
India's Vikramaditya aircraft carrier.WorldwideAircraftCarriers by Jeff Head

For the past few years, the Liaoning has been designated a training vessel. 

Source: Business Insider

China's eastern neighbor, Japan, has smaller "helicopter destroyers," or flat deck carriers that sport helicopters and short or vertical takeoff aircraft as well as heavy armaments and missiles.

China's eastern neighbor, Japan, has smaller "helicopter destroyers," or flat deck carriers that sport helicopters and short or vertical takeoff aircraft as well as heavy armaments and missiles.
A Japanese Hyuga class sails in front of a US Nimitz class carrier.Public Domain

Source: Business Insider

But Japan has a trick up its sleeve. Japan recently launched a larger class of helicopter carrier, the Izumo class. Soon, these carriers will support the F-35B marine variant, which experts expect will provide unprecedented dominance in the air and seas.

Source: Jeff Head

But the US is the world's undisputed king of carriers. The USS Abraham Lincoln, one of the US Navy's 10 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, is larger and carries more planes than the Liaoning, and it features catapults to launch heavier planes.

But the US is the world's undisputed king of carriers. The USS Abraham Lincoln, one of the US Navy's 10 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, is larger and carries more planes than the Liaoning, and it features catapults to launch heavier planes.
Thomson Reuters

US carriers boast nuclear powered cores, so they can sail around the globe without being refueled or relying on tankers.

Pound for pound, US carriers don't carry as many weapons as their foreign counterparts, but they travel in strike groups, which include guided missile destroyers to defend them.

Pound for pound, US carriers don't carry as many weapons as their foreign counterparts, but they travel in strike groups, which include guided missile destroyers to defend them.
The USS Abraham Lincoln Battle Group along with ships from Australia, Chile, Japan, Canada, and Korea steam alongside one another for a Carrier Strike Group Photo during RIMPAC 2000.PH2 Gabriel Wilson

Not pictured: submarines. 

Furthermore, the US is developing an even larger, more advanced class of aircraft carrier with an outsized power core to support weapons of the future like railguns and lasers.

Furthermore, the US is developing an even larger, more advanced class of aircraft carrier with an outsized power core to support weapons of the future like railguns and lasers.
A Nimitz class aircraft carrier (top) compared to a Ford class (bottom).Jeffhead.com and Business Insider

Click here for more information on the Ford-class carriers»

Also, US carriers use a whole team of aircraft: Transport planes handle logistics; electronic warfare squadrons backup fighters; airborne warning and control planes (AWACS, like the E-2 Hawkeye pictured below) transmit huge amounts of targeting data from the sky; helicopters hunt submarines and move personnel.

 Transport planes handle logistics; electronic warfare squadrons backup fighters; airborne warning and control planes (AWACS, like the E-2 Hawkeye pictured below) transmit huge amounts of targeting data from the sky; helicopters hunt submarines and move personnel.
Other carriers boast fewer types of aircraft, and only the US operates carrier-based AWACS.U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class (AW) Jayme Pastoric.

Click here for more information on US carrier operations and aircraft»

To put things in perspective, this graphic shows the relative sizes of aircraft carriers from around the world.

To put things in perspective, this graphic shows the relative sizes of aircraft carriers from around the world.
Note that the USS Gerald R. Ford pictured in this graphic is slightly larger than the USS Nimitz aircraft carriers that now operate in the US Navy, but both vessels displace 102,000 tons.FOX 52 via Wikimedia Commons

And let's not forget that the US has more aircraft carriers than the rest of the world combined.

And let's not forget that the US has more aircraft carriers than the rest of the world combined.
* India's second aircraft carrier is not pictured in this graphic.globalsecurity.org

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