By William Tucker
Xinhua is reporting that China’s first aircraft carrier will begin limited sea trials in the near future. Sea trials are a necessary step in the development of any ocean going vessel that checks the functioning of the ships engines and other critical elements. For China, this is indeed a big step forward in developing a modern, blue water navy, but it is not as dire as many military pundits are making it out to be. China first acquired the hull of the former Soviet ship from a Ukrainian shipyard in 1998. It took a further four years before the hull was moved to a Chinese dry-dock in 2002. Essentially, the Chinese have been working on this vessel since 2002 and are only managing to get to sea trials some nine years later. Even then, the ship, along with naval doctrine, has a long way to go before it can be considered fully operational.
The purpose of this article is not to downplay a potential, long term threat to the U.S. Rather; we must put things in perspective. The U.S. still has the world’s most capable navy including eleven fully operational aircraft carriers along with their associated strike groups. A single Chinese carrier will not challenge this, nor is it sufficient to adequately threaten any of China’s neighbors. That being said, we can expect that many nations in the region will look to the U.S. for protection and they will likely point to the Chinese carrier as evidence of a growing threat.