NAVAL WAR COLLEGE REVIEW
centered on helicopter carriers like Minsk and Moskva. The original approach was later supplemented by the Kuznetzov/Varyag, designed for force-on-force operations.67 There is some evidence that China might follow this pattern of in- tegrated air and undersea warfare doctrine, but like all carrier discussions, this is still very hypothetical.
In the near term, if China cannot solve the extended-deployment issue and its SSBNs have to stay close to home, there might be logic in the carriers’ protecting an SSBN bastion in the Yellow Sea, Bohai Gulf, or South China Sea. But pursuit of such a strategy was arguably problematic for the Soviet Union. A bastion strategy might be even more counterproductive for China; forces devoted to supporting and defending a carrier are better spent elsewhere if fixed-wing ASW assets cannot be developed and deployed either from land bases or onboard ship. Even then, force protection, as it is in the U.S. Navy, would be a major drain. In an era in which long-distance precision strike has been emphasized—particularly by the U.S. military—it is far from clear how survivable Chinese aircraft carriers might be, particularly in a concentrated bastion, where they would offer dense targeting options for a wide variety of adversary platforms, although targeting the right vessel would still be a complex problem for the adversary.
A SMALLER HELICOPTER CARRIER: CHINA’S INTERIM COMPROMISE? China already has some experience with a ship that can support multiple heli- copters, albeit an extremely modest one. The multirole aviation training ship 0891A Shichang has a large aft helicopter deck, accounting for two-thirds of its 125-meter (410-foot) length. The deck has dual landing spots for Harbin Zhi-9A helicopters. Removing equipment containers (designed for rapid reconfigura- tion) aft could make space for a total of three helicopters. Shichang was con-
ceived as both “China’s first aerial service capacity ship” and “first national defense mobilization warship” as part of a larger plan to refit merchant vessels rapidly for defense mobilization.68 This initiative apparently began in 1989, and was motivated in part by British and American use of commercial vessels in the Falklands War and later by Operation DESERT STORM, respectively.69 Shichang is entirely indigenous in its development and production, and reportedly meets all relevant domestic and international standards.70
Shichang, which resembles the Royal Navy’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary aviation training and primary casualty reception ship Argus, was launched on 28 Decem- ber 1996 in Shanghai; it was dispatched to the Dalian Naval Academy in 1997 following rigorous sea trials, prioritized by the PLAN leadership, ranging as far away as the South China Sea.71 According to an article that originally appeared in China’s PLA Daily, Shichang, together with the naval cadet training ship Zheng