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 modernising 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 law, builds and militarizes artificial islands in the South China Sea, and threatens and bullies its neighbours.
In the slides below, see how China’s Liaoning stacks up to other carriers worldwide:
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.
The Liaoning launches planes off a 'ski-jump' style deck because it lacks the catapults that US carriers have.
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.
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' mould of the Liaoning.
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 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.
China's southern neighbour 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 eastern neighbour, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To put things in perspective, this graphic shows the relative sizes of aircraft carriers from around the world.
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