Is the PLA Navy Making Plans for a Three Carrier Battle Group?

On December 31, the Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Pao cited a report that no one in the western media has detected concerning a Jane’s Defence Weekly article which reported that China has plans to develop three-carrier battle groups (CBVG) over the next decade. News about this development has been widely discussed in the Hong Kong and Taiwanese press. Citing Jane’s, Wen Wai Pao reported that as a part of its carrier battle group plans the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) intends to establish an even stronger submarine fleet; having added 20 nuclear-powered submarines in the past five years, increasing the total number of submarines to 55. The report indicated that the PLAN currently has 70 destroyers and frigates, 50 dock-landing ships and 45 coastal warships (Wen Wei Pao, December 31, 2007).

Taiwanese news sources highlighted Gordon Jacobs, a Chinese military analyst based in the United States—whose report on the modernization of China’s navy in the Jane’s report was one of the sources for the report—as stating that if the Chinese government contracted for the construction of the carrier groups in 2006, then it is possible for the first battle carrier group to break water as early as 2011, be in service in 2014, and by 2016 be accompanied by a second service-ready aircraft carrier group (Lienhe Pao, December 31).

Jacobs cited Chen Yung-kang, an official in Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense (MOD), who during a presentation at a defense conference held in Taiwan in 2006 argued that Taiwan needed submarines to strengthen its defense capability against China’s quickly expanding naval power and its plan to develop two battle carrier groups by 2020 (AFP, November 26, 2006). Chen added that the Soviet-made Varyag Carrier was being upgraded and repaired at Dalian in Northeastern China, and being prepared for training use (Chinesenewsnet.com, December 30, 2006; China Times, December 31, 2006). The Chinese government is still tight lipped about its future plans for the former Soviet aircraft carrier which is now dry docked in Dalian and painted in standard PLAN grey. Taiwanese experts believe that the PLAN intends to activate the carrier as a part of its three carrier battle group plan.

In 2007 Chinese government sources admitted for the first time that Beijing is researching and capable of building an aircraft carrier, as stated by Huang Qiang, a spokesman for the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense of China (CSTIND). Furthermore, Zhang Yunchuan, the CSTIND chairman, said in March 2007 that China was indeed researching the building of aircraft carriers: “China stands for strategic active defense and, even when it owns aircraft carriers, it will definitely not intrude into or occupy any other nation or resort to force with the use of carrier vessels,” Zhang said (People’s Daily, April 25, 2007).