NAVAL WAR COLLEGE REVIEW
This, however, does not mean that the way ahead for the Chinese navy— which currently has a submarine-centered force structure and doctrine—is cast in stone or that the choice need be mutually exclusive. In fact, while submarines seem to be ascendant, the Chinese are still actively engaged with the carrier question and are reframing the terms of the debate. That debate, moreover, has been reinvigorated by recent events, notably the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami, which the above-cited Chinese official averred had “definitely” changed Chinese thinking about the utility of aircraft carriers, and by the advent of China’s elev- enth “five-year plan,”for the period 2006–10. This paper examines China’s prog- ress thus far, the road ahead, and a range of ways in which an aircraft carrier might ultimately fit into the PLAN’s emerging order of battle.
CHINA’S CARRIER DEVELOPMENT HISTORY AND FUTURE OPTIONS The aircraft carrier has long had determined, if not numerous, advocates at the highest levels of the Chinese military. Adm. Liu Huaqing, a student of Soviet ad- miral Sergei Gorshkov at the Voroshilov Naval Academy in Leningrad (1954–58), championed the aircraft carrier when he became chief of the PLAN (1982–88) and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (1989–97). “Building air- craft carriers has all along been a matter of concern for the Chinese people,” Ad- miral Liu insisted. “To modernize our national defense and build a perfect weaponry and equipment system, we cannot but consider the development of aircraft carriers.”10
L i u h a s b e e n c r e d i t e d w i t h a n i n s t r u m e n t a l r o l e i n m o d e r n i z i n g C h i n a ’ s n a v and with conceiving ambitious goals for its future power projection, in the framework of “island chains.”11 Liu and others have defined the First Island Chain, or current limit of most PLAN operations, as comprising Japan and its northern and southern archipelagos (the latter disputed by China), South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines.12 The Second Island Chain, which Liu envisioned as being fully within the scope of future PLAN activities, ranges from the Japanese archipelago south to the Bonin and Marshall islands, including Guam.13 Some unofficial Chinese publications refer to a “Third Island Chain” centered on America’s Hawaiian bases, viewed as a “strategic rear area”for the U.S. military.14 The ultimate goal is a Chinese navy that can perform a mix of sea denial, area de- nial, and varying degrees of power projection within and out to these island chains. y
In his 2004 autobiography, coverage of which by China’s Xinhua press agency implies quasi-official endorsement, Admiral Liu described in some detail his as- sociation with, and aspirations for, efforts to develop an aircraft carrier.15 As e a r l y a s 1 9 7 0 , L i u “ o r g a n i z e d a s p e c i a l f e a s i b i l i t y s t u d y f o r b u i l d i n g a i r c r a f t