Wednesday, October 10, 2007

color me un-surprised.

A few years back, I posted this picture. It shows the ex-Soviet Varyag, ex-Riga, a Kusnetsov-class 65,000 ton multirole aircraft carrier, under tow in the Black Sea on its way to its new Chinese owners.

When the Soviet Union broke up, Varyag was transferred to the ownership of the Ukraine, who lacked the money and desire to finish construction (the hull is structurally complete, but she lacks engines, a rudder, and all her electronics.) The Ukrainians put the hull up for auction, and in 1998, a Chinese company bought the Varyag for $20 million, in order to "turn her into a floating hotel and casino in Macau."

Riiiiight. That's exactly what I thought, back when I read the news article that came with that picture a few years ago.

Turns out the Varyag never made it to Macau, and she's not been turned into a casino, either. She's currently dry-docked in a People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) shipyard in Dalian, where the hull has been sandblasted and painted PLAN gray. The only official statement from China issued on the Varyag is that she's being "maintained for military purposes." She's now the Shi-Lang, PLAN pennant number 83. (Admiral Shi-Lang was the Chinese commander that conquered Taiwan in 1681.)

I'm shocked, I tell you. Shocked.

Now, what exactly they're going to do with that hull is still a mystery. They're certainly taking notes for their own carrier program. They're probably going to use her as a training vessel for carrier air operations. Maybe someday we'll even see her sporting new Chinese-made electronics, weapons systems, and propulsion.

I'm not one of those folks who think we're in danger of being invaded by a billion Chinamen any time soon (we are, after all, their biggest trading partner), but I think that things are going to get pretty interesting in that region a few years hence. Taiwan just developed a domestic line of ship-to-ship missiles, and I doubt that the Japanese Navy would let their shiny new Aegis cruisers gather dust at the dock if and when the Chinese start asserting regional dominance.

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