Key Point: As China and India fight for aircraft carriers, will they even matter in future warfare?
Aircraft carriers, it seems, are all the rage nowadays in Asia. Long written off by some as bulky, oversized “cruise missile magnets,” the flattop appears to be enjoying a new lease-of-life as of late.
Until quite recently, only two nations in the Asia-Pacific operated fixed-wing carriers: India with a 50-year-old-plus ex-British carrier; and Thailand with its “pocket carrier,” the Chakri Nareubet. Both vessels could only operate aging Harrier jump jets, and most of these aircraft were in fact long inoperable.
Today, China operates one aircraft carrier, the ex-Soviet Varyag, refurbished and rechristened the Liaoning. In addition, India is in the process of accepting two new carriers, one based on the 45,000-tonne Admiral Gorshkov (sold to India in 2004 and heavily refitted as the INS Vikramaditya), and an indigenously built INS Vikrant, which is currently undergoing sea trials.
More on the Way?:
More carriers are on the way. At least two Chinese indigenous carriers are believed to be under construction. It has been speculated that the Chinese navy (PLAN) could eventually operate up to six aircraft carriers, equipped with the indigenously designed J-15 fighter. India plans to possess at least three carriers, one for each naval command.
In addition, at least three other Asian-Pacific nations – Japan, South Korea, and Australia – are all acquiring large open-deck helicopter assault ships. While none of these ships is intended as a fixed-wing aircraft carrier, they could serve as the basis for future vessels. Indeed, the Australians are buying two ships from Spain that were originally intended for fixed-wing aircraft, and they still include the ski-lift design.