China’s New Aircraft Carrier

Very few ships at sea are as impressive as an aircraft carrier. The battleships of a bygone era – USS Missouri, HMS Warspite, or Bismarck, were extraordinary vessels, but they are now vanished from the world’s oceans. Carriers also grant the navy that employs them an extraordinary ability to strike at targets well inland and out of the range of even the largest guns. To put this in perspective, the most powerful naval guns emplaced upon a battleship could strike at targets some 26,000 yards away. A carrier plane can fly to ranges over a thousand miles – more if it is refueled in the air. This is called power projection.

But a carrier is arguably the most difficult of all warships to operate. It is both a ship and an airport squeezed into a hull that, no matter how large, is going to be very cramped. Landing on a carrier requires the finest pilots and highly skilled deck crewmen. Further, even conventionally-powered carriers will have prodigious fuel needs, and nuclear carriers, while not dependent on fossil fuels, will demand expensively-trained nuclear technicians to keep their reactors running.

China has just now, with the launching of the Liaoning, entered into the exclusive club of navies that operate genuine carriers – ships that can launch and recover fixed-wing aircraft, not just helicopters. The Chinese are taking things slowly. They purchased the unfinished hull of the Varyag, a Soviet-era vessel that was marooned in the newly-independent Ukraine when the USSR collapsed. It took a long time for China then to complete the ship, a sign of both the aircraft carrier’s complexity, which is true of all carriers, as well as the need to develop the requisite technical base to fabricate the parts to make the ship more than a floating hulk.

It is interesting that China is getting into the carrier game now. While China’s maritime ambitions are nothing new, it does not appear that seagoing airpower is necessary for it to achieve its goals in the waters nearest to it, especially in the East and South China Seas. The Chinese seem to realize that the Liaoning is a learning vessel, and that it will be a while before it is truly ready for sustained combat operations.

The U.S. Navy, which is the current master of such things, did not leap into carrier warfare all at once either. The ability of U.S. carrier strike groups to operate for long periods far from base was developed during the crucible of its Second World War battles with the Imperial Japanese Navy. Getting airplanes off the deck is no small feat. Coordinating their attacks, and mastering the time and space dimensions of carrier warfare, which are so different from that of old-fashioned, gun-equipped warships which can see their targets when they fire, was not something that came naturally to the Americans. At both Midway and Santa Cruz, the U.S. naval aviators had trouble synchronizing their attacks on the Japanese.

Since the end of the war, the U.S. has retained its carriers to enhance its overseas diplomatic and military efforts. Is that what China is looking to do with its own carrier, or carriers, one day? Perhaps China feels that the only way to safeguard its interests in the Middle East and Africa is to have the ability to deploy military aircraft at sea. But Chinese carriers would be vulnerable to the same antiship missiles and other weapons that make the survivability of American carriers during a “hot” war so dubious. Carriers will be the first targets in any shooting war. China itself has deployed long range antiship ballistic missiles to strike at U.S. carriers. The Liaoning will face very similar threats when it is at sea. Apparently, China is willing to run that risk, that is, deploying a costly warship that will be the biggest target in its fleet, for the benefit of the diplomatic and power projection capability that it provides.

Without doubt, the introduction of the Liaoning will probably cause more psychological distress among China’s neighbors than it will actually affect the balance of power there. The Liaoning is not so much a game changer in itself, but a harbinger, most likely, of things to come. A carrier is not a half-measure when it comes to things naval. It is too big, complex, and costly to be just a showpiece. Barring some complete reassessment of its strategic posture, China’s navy will likely deploy other carriers in the future, to enable it to influence affairs far from Chinese shores.

Among other ominous developments, here is an article about the current situation in East Asia.  According to the author, for many of the people of China and Japan, the Second World War never really ended.   The resolution has been just been delayed a while.

 

 

 

Labor Day Warbirds

These fantastic warbirds made an appearance at the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale, New York, over the Labor Day weekend:

The rarely seen North American P51C Mustang.

The Douglas A1 Skyraider carrier attack plane.

The Consolidated  B24 Liberator heavy bomber.

The Vought F4U Corsair – carrier fighter of the Pacific war.

The Boeing B17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber – workhorse of the Mighty Eight Air Force.

Marc De Santis

U.S. Army Dirigible

You will enjoy this short video of the U.S. Army’s new surveillance dirigible – the LEMV.

Airships have a certain romance to them.   To paraphrase Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, airships hang there in the sky just the way that bricks don’t.

Jet aircraft are very expensive to operate per hour of flight time.  Airships are less expensive.  Unfortunately, I was not able to determine just how much less expensive they are, but when I find out, that information will make its way into a future post.  As I mentioned in a previous post, an F/A-18 costs about $20,000 an hour to fly.

Marc De Santis

Olympic-Sized Photo Gear Room

Take a look at Canon’s gear room at the 2012 Olympics in London.  There may be a million dollars worth of equipment in these photographs.

From what I understand, many professional photographers utilize the camera manufacturer’s high-end equipment at sporting events on a temporary basis.  This saves them the cost of purchasing the expensive equipment for themselves.

Get a load of those lenses!  The bigger ones cost thousands of dollars.  These are precision machines.  I am not sure if the gear is rented out or if it is supplied gratis for a period of time.  These items are not for the photographer on a budget.

I have always liked the appearance of the black-and-white tubes on Canon’s big lenses.  They look like cameras that NASA designed – very Space Age.

Marc De Santis

F/A-18s at War

Read this illuminating article about American airpower over Afghanistan.  Don’t forget to watch the extraordinary three-and-a-half minute video either.   It is remarkable from start to finish.  The piece makes some good points about the recession of airpower in the theater as U.S. forces draw down.  Airpower is much like oxygen.  You don’t notice it much until its gone.

Another point to bear in mind – one hour’s operation of a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet fighter can cost as much as $20,000.00.  Very roughly, that is equivalent to dumping a Honda Civic into the ocean for every hour of flight time.

Marc De Santis

Cradle of Aviation

I recently visited the fabulous Cradle of Aviation Air & Space Museum in Garden City, New York.  Apart from being a top notch aircraft museum, the Cradle places a strong emphasis on showcasing Long Island’s rich aviation history.   Here are photographs of a few of my favorite exhibits:

 

Here is a glorious Grumman F11 Tiger in Blue Angels livery.

 

This is a Grumman F9F Cougar with swept wings.  The incorporation of wartime German aerospace research allowed post-war American engineers to place redesigned wings on the originally straight-winged Cougar.

 

The 70 mm Hasselblad camera was used by Apollo astronauts to take pictures on the moon.

 

A Republic F84 Thunderjet.  It was no match for the MiG-15 in combat over Korea, but it performed well as a fighter-bomber.  Note the straight wings.  Swept wings were just becoming standard on new jet fighters at this time.

Marc De Santis

Solar System Blues

Space exploration can sometimes be taken too lightly.  Traveling through space is one of the most difficult endeavors that humanity has ever attempted.  The sheer size of the universe, and the extraordinary distances involved, even to the nearest stars, make it unlikely that human-crewed spacecraft will be orbiting alien suns any time soon.

Until then, we will have to make do with exploring our own small pocket of the galaxy – our own solar system.   This piece is a sober look at the prospect of space travel for the foreseeable future.

 

Marc De Santis

Tolkien and Technology

J.R.R. Tolkien was no fan of the modern world.  Technology was more often employed by the bad guys than by the good guys in Middle earth.  Here is an interesting take on Tolkien’s feelings toward technology.  I especially find intriguing the notion that technology and magic were once twins, and that one, magic, died out.

This article is a must for Tolkien fans.

Marc De Santis