Agence France Presse – January 19, 2011
China has nearly finished restoring an old Soviet aircraft carrier bought in 1998, which will be used for training and as a model for a future indigenously built ship, an expert said Jan. 19.
The Varyag, a Kuznetsov-class carrier, was originally built for the Soviet navy, but construction was interrupted by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Its immense armored hull, with no engine, electrics or propeller, was bought by China in 1998 and towed from Ukraine’s Black Sea coast to China.
“They have fixed the inside at 100 percent,” said Andrei Chang, head of the Kanwa Information Centre, which monitors China’s military.
According to Chang, the renovation process has included fixing the boilers, electricity, electronic systems, living quarters and engines. The hull and deck of the ship have also been refurbished, other experts have said.
China has never officially announced it was renovating the 990-foot long aircraft carrier.
The carrier, currently based in the northeast port of Dalian, could make its first sea trip “very soon,” Chang told AFP, adding the refurbishment of the ship had taken place “at unexpected speed.”
But he said the ship’s radars still needed work, and the fighter planes that will train on the carrier are still being tested.
The refurbished ship will be used as a model for China’s first indigenously built aircraft carrier, which, unlike the Varyag, will be nuclear-powered. Construction on this ship could start soon, he said.
The modernization of China’s army has caused concern abroad.
Last week, the Chinese military sent its first stealth fighter – the J-20 – into the skies, just as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Beijing to patch up frayed defense ties.
Around the same time, Adm. Mike Mullen, head of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that China’s new weapons program, including the J-20, appeared to be directed against the United States.
The PLA – the largest army in the world – is hugely secretive about its defense programs, which benefit from a big military budget boosted by the nation’s runaway economic growth.