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ERICKSON & WILSON

them. Some Western analysts appear to engage in “mirror imaging” in assuming that China will automatically emulate American and Soviet large-deck aviation trajectories. But even a serious Chinese carrier development program might look substantially different from that of the superpowers. In August 1986, Liu Huaqing recalled, “when I was briefed by the leaders of the Naval Armament and Technology Department and the Feasibility Study Center, I assigned them a task regarding the development of carriers. I said, ‘The method of building an air- craft carrier is a matter of overall naval construction. Whether [we are to build] helicopter carrier(s) and escort carriers in different stages, or [to] directly build escort carriers [is a matter that we] must assess carefully.’”87 Recently, the Chi- nese have been surprisingly open minded as to the definition of a “carrier,” run- ning as it does the gamut from amphibious warfare ships through helicopter and hybrid carriers, up to the U.S. supercarriers.88 A senior Chinese official stated to the authors that “China will not develop Nimitz-class carriers but rather mid-sized carriers.”89 In this regard, France may be a model for China. Accord- ing to one article, “Since the 1970s, China has dispatched a large number of mili- tary personnel to each of the French Navy’s research institutes for exchange. [They] have conducted thorough analysis on aircraft-carrier-related technol-

ogy. Many people follow France’s aircraft carriers carefully, even learning from personal experience how to pilot carrier-based aircraft for deck landings.”90

Numerous literature and analyses concerning Western helicopter “carriers” suggest that this might be a more logical arc for the PLAN.91 These smaller, sim- pler carriers would be substantially easier to build and operate. Helicopter carri- ers might also better serve Chinese operational requirements, ranging from augmenting China’s currently anemic airborne ASW capability to logistical sup- port and even humanitarian missions.92

The major obstacle to successful Chinese development of helicopter carriers is the continuing backwardness of its rotary-wing aircraft development and inven- tory. The entire People’s Liberation Army today possesses fewer than 350 helicop- ters (roughly three hundred in the PLA and forty in the PLAN). Most platforms in the PLA’s disproportionately small fleet are either imports (for instance, Super Frelons) or copies of foreign models (like the Z-8 Super Frelon derivative). The only remotely capable versions are based on French platforms, such as the Dau- phin (Z-9). China also operates some Russian imports, such as the Ka-28 Helix.93 It is finally beginning to address this lack by entering into joint ventures with Eurocopter to produce more capable machines and to obtain related technology and expertise. Reportedly, China is developing its first indigenous assault helicop- ter, the WZ-10 attack variant.94 For the foreseeable future, however, China may pre- fer to purchase European helicopters. One Chinese analyst expresses particular interest in acquiring the Anglo-Italian EH101 and the multirole NATO NH-90

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