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structural demands of flight decks.43 Other experts have analyzed “ski-jump”con- figurations (similar to those of Kuznetzov and some European VSTOL carriers)*

and other takeoff issues, deck-motion compensation, wake turbulence, wave-off procedures, and landing decision aids, as well as aircraft-critical technologies and command and control.44 In addition to detailed analyses of the require- ments of current carrier operations, there is discussion of potentially revolu- tionary technologies that could be employed on next-generation carriers, including electromagnetic catapults and “integrated full electric propulsion” (IFEP).45 Nearly all of this research appears to be theoretical in nature, however, and none of it proves that China has made actual progress in developing its own aircraft carrier—or even has made an official decision to do so. Rather, it seems to indicate that Chinese experts have followed closely major foreign aircraft car- riers and are gaining increasing understanding of the systems and technologies that their navies employ. Moreover, much of the research is at least indirectly ap- plicable to targeting enemy carriers more effectively.46 In June 2006, a second Chinese official informed the authors that in PLA internal meetings, Taiwan sce- narios and how to target U.S. carrier strike groups are often discussed.

With respect to carrier aircraft, pilot training would be particularly problem- atic for VSTOL and VTOL aircraft, given China’s lack of relevant experience, if less so for helicopters, though rotary-wing operations are now very modest in the PLAN. In general, however, there has been incremental progress in Chinese naval aviation, albeit from a rather low baseline. The PLA Naval Air Force (PLANAF) is increasingly aggressive and confident in its basic homeland de- fense and interdiction missions, and its experience in nighttime over-water training and patrol is growing. Leading indicators of serious aircraft-carrier prep- arations include the development of special air control radars and reinforced landing gear. According to a 2004 article, Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corpora- tion has been working on a carrier variant of the J-10 but still faces many tech- nological shortfalls.47 Another recent source claims that China may be seeking Russian thrust-vectoring-controlled AL-31FN engines to render the J-10 better capable of takeoff from a ski-jump deck and to reduce its landing speed.48 How- ever, additional large purchases or licensing agreements for naval variants of Russian aircraft suitable for carrier operations—such as the Yak-141, the Su-30MKK, or the Su-33 (the last an Su-27 variant designed for Kuznetzov-class carriers, and hence appropriate for Varyag)—would be one of the better indica- tors of where China’s aircraft carrier program is moving.49

  • *

    A ramp, typically twelve degrees, at the bow, that helps impart lift and permits heavier aircraft to become airborne after a short takeoff run. This allows for greater range and weapon payload than nonramped vertical/short take-offs, but still not on a par with the range and payloads of aircraft launched by steam catapult.

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