Wednesday, December 21, 2011

First Chinese aircraft carrier could soon embark on third sea trial

Less that two weeks after completing its second sea trial, the Varyag looks set to embark on a third journey at sea

China’s Liaoning Air Police on Monday issued a navigational warning for a zone northwest of the Bohai Sea, east of Dalian, where the country’s first aircraft carrier is berthed, amid reports that the refurbished Soviet-era vessel could soon embark on a third sea trial.

The 60,000 tonne Kuznetsov-class Varyag returned to Dalian Port on Dec. 11 after completing a 13-day sea trial, its second since the carrier was officially unveiled to the world.

Quoting military enthusiasts at Dalian, the reports said the Varyag was docked at the pier and that “faint smoke” was emanating from the vessel, a sign that the engines were running.

[...]

In addition, the life rafts had not been removed and weapons systems were not covered by protective sheeting, reports said. Unnamed sources said landings could be attempted during the third sea trial. No date has been given yet for the operation.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

4 comments:

Michael Fagan said...

Sorry Michael - off topic comment - but presumably you've seen this story already? The captain and first mate were Ukrainian, the ship was bound for Shanghai and the Patriot missiles were supposedly from the Germans. That line about them being intended for South Korea is a joke. Did the Fins interrupt a U.S. counter-intel op?

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

@Mike: Yes, I saw this, and the Taipei Times had an article from the wires last week. Most reports wrongly claim that the missiles are manufactured by Raytheon Corp, when in fact they are made by Lockheed Martin (Raytheon makes the fire units and radar systems).

The Korean defense ministry has since confirmed that South Korea has been purchasing Patriot missiles form Germany since 2006 and that it would have no problem obtaining the 69 missiles impounded by Finnish authorities. For their part, German defense authorities have told media this was a legitimate shipment.

In my view whatever problem occurred was with the shipping firm, which I hope is being investigated.

That said, given that PAC-2s and -3s are likely "black boxed," I'm not sure the Chinese could have done much with the missiles in terms of reverse-engineering. And without fire units, they'd be useless.

This is not to mention, of course, that as this was official, government-to-government business, the disappearance of the 69 missiles would not have gone unnoticed.

I think there's less to this story than was initially believed.

Michael Fagan said...

Well if the joke is on me and my own confirmation bias then I'll be glad to be wrong in one sense at least.

The ship's itinerary hasn't been made public, so it isn't clear whether the stop in Shanghai occurs before or after the stop at some (unstated) Korean port. But there I was jumping at conclusions.

It might also be that the missiles are dummies (e.g. filled with concrete) in any case given the apparent slapdash manner in which they were packaged.

Michael Fagan said...

No. I think I may have had this right the first time - every way I look at this it's bad.

1) Even if it was a legit transfer from Germany to SoKo, why the shabby transport so obviously done on the cheap? Why the lack of papers (and from Germany, of all countries)?

2) If I were sending expensive PAC missiles to Korea I would send them by air-freight directly (unless they were dummies). I wouldn't have them stashed on the cheap on a little commercial cargo ship, and I certainly wouldn't have tolerated that ship stopping at any Chinese port if I could help it.

3) The missiles may not have had radar and other ancilliary kit, but they would have contained engines and control systems which could then be reverse engineered. I imagine these would be quite different to those used in the HQ-9 given the different performance profiles of the two systems.

4) The captain and first mate have since been detained by the Finns (along with the missiles), and didn't have all the necessary paperwork for those missiles to be in Finnish waters. Again this is weird coming from Germany.

5) Surely someone at the State Department would have had to clear this first, even if the missiles belonged to the Germans (IP issues for Lockheed)? Or at least State would have to have been kept informed? Or let the various governments of the ports on the ship's itinerary know about its cargo?

6) The Koreans confirmed that they have been after PAC stuff from the Germans for the last five years - OK. But they didn't confirm this particular shipment, when it would surely have been easy to do so given that the Germans have apparently confirmed it.

And call me Miss Marple, but (7) the fact that the captain and first mate were Ukrainian doesn't sit well with me either. We know the PLA deal with the Ukrainians in order to get Russian kit on the cheap.

All that being said, I might still be wrong (never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity). But this has "dodgy" written all over it.