Maiden voyage tests for defects
The maiden voyage of China's first aircraft carrier, the Varyag, was to check for any design defects as the ship had been modified heavily after it was bought from Ukraine in 1999, experts said yesterday.
The comments came as the Varyag entered its third day at sea, with some mainland media speculating that there might be flight tests from today.
But experts said flight tests were unlikely to be part of the first sea trial, which is expected to take five days, because of the technical complexities involved. Rather, the voyage would mainly focus on how different, more basic components of the carrier performed and to look for improvements if needed.
'Launching and landing of flights of course is the main business of an aircraft carrier, but technically it is a very difficult task, and I do not think they can do it within five days,' said Qu Yanbing , editor of Beijing-based military magazine, Ordnance Knowledge.
Lin Wen-cheng, from the Institute of China and Asia-Pacific Studies at Taiwan's National Sun Yat-sen University, also did not think Beijing was fully prepared to carry out flight tests.
Antony Wong Dong, president of the Macau-based International Military Association, said one of the main objectives of the maiden voyage was to fix hidden design flaws for the 300-metre-long former Soviet vessel, whose construction started more than two decades ago but was suspended when it was two thirds completed in 1992. The ship, which was to be the second Admiral Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier, was transferred to Ukraine when the Soviet Union broke up, and bought by China in 1998.
'The Soviet Union and Ukraine did not have much experience building aircraft carriers,' Wong said. 'It is possible there are some hidden flaws in the Varyag and China needs to fix them.'
The navy would check for mechanical or structural faults that posed any risk to the ship and its crew, he said. More complicated systems, such as electronics and communications components, would be tested in future trials.
'A major task on such a ship is to prevent different electronic components interfering with one another,' he said. 'There is at least one example of an overseas warship whose radar had to be switched off while the satellite communications system was in use, which can leave the ship vulnerable to enemy attack.'
Chinese officials remained silent over the production schedule for the carrier, but China Newsweek, published by China News Service, reported yesterday that the carrier would be in service by August 1 next year with a full ship's complement.
Wong said it would take up to 10 years for the carrier to reach its full military power after its official launch, but Qu doubted that the vessel could be commissioned in just a year given the extent of manpower training and research required.
Japanese Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said yesterday that as a carrier, the Varyag was designed to be highly manoeuvrable and offensive in nature. 'We want China to explain why it needs such a ship,' he said.