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ERICKSON & WILSON

carriers as instructed by the higher authorities and submitted a project proposal to them.”16 In May 1980, Liu became the first PLA leader to tour an American aircraft carrier, USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63). This experience left him “deeply im- pressed by its imposing magnificence and modern fighting capacity.”17 Liu stated that he emphasized to the PLA General Staff the need to devote great ef- fort to “two large . . . key issues” essential not only to “long range combat opera- tions” in “wartime but also to deterrence power in peacetime”: development of aircraft carriers and of SSBNs.18

Liu recalled that the question of Chinese aircraft development had weighed particularly heavily on him when he became PLAN commander in 1982. “With the development of maritime undertakings and the change in the mode of sea struggles, the threats from sea we were facing differed vastly from the past,” Liu assessed. “We had to deal with SSBNs and ship-based air forces, both capable of long-range attacks. To meet that requirement, the strength of the Chinese Navy seemed somewhat inadequate. Despite our long coastal defense line, we had only small and medium-sized warships and land-based air units, which were merely capable of short-distance operations. In case of a sea war, all we could do was to deplore our weakness.” But “by developing air carriers,” Liu believed, “we could solve this problem successfully.”

In early 1984, at the First Naval Armament and Technology Work Confer- ence, Liu recalled stating, “Quite some time has elapsed since the Navy had the idea of building aircraft carriers. Now, our national strength is insufficient for us to do this. It seems that we have to wait for some time.” In 1986, however, “when briefed by leaders of the Navy Armament and Technology Department,” Liu re- visited the issue. “I said that we had to build aircraft carriers,” Liu recalled, and that “we must consider this question by 2000. At this stage . . . we need not dis- cuss the model of carriers to be built, but should make some preliminary stud- ies.” The Gorshkov-educated Liu saw a historical analogue: “The Soviet Union spent 30 years developing carriers. At the beginning, there were different opin- ions about building carriers. The Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party did not have a firm determination to do this, but the Soviet people wanted carriers. Shortly afterward, they started building carriers. Judging from our present situation, even for defense purposes only, we are in need of carriers.”Fol- lowing Liu’s entreaty, “the leaders of the Navy Armament and Technology De- partment promptly passed my idea to the Naval Armament Feasibility Study Center. Then, the two departments teamed up to organize a feasibility study in this respect.”19

Liu suggested that in 1987 China was finally on track to address the “key question” of the carrier platform and its aircraft.20 On 31 March of that year, he reported to the PLA General Staff that Chinese aviation and shipbuilding

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