On the last day of 2015, China's Ministry of Defense confirmed the country has started building a second aircraft carrier. The new one, domestically designed, has a displacement of 50,00o tons. It will be conventionally-powered and features J-15 fighters using the ski-jump takeoff method. From these features, it's clear that the country's second aircraft carrier shares some similarities with the first one, Liaoning.
Many netizens cheered the news as the country's new year's gift to its people.
Beijing has kept a low profile about the new carrier. The information available on media were either collected by Chinese military afficionados or speculated by Western intelligence agencies, sometimes leaked by Chinese authorities. US media have claimed that China's new carrier will be ready next year at the earliest. US intelligence also predicted China will build several more aircraft carriers in the next 15 years.
The prediction is credible that China will build more aircraft carriers. Based on the major features of the second aircraft carrier, we still lag far behind the most advanced ones built by the US. Two notable technologies, nuclear power and steam catapult, have not been adopted by the new one. Its displacement of 50,000 tons is only half of its American counterparts.
It is a long-term and arduous task. Based on the current situation, it will take China several decades to build a world-class aircraft carrier. It cannot rush to reach this goal.
Aircraft carriers face a different information technology challenge to the WWII era, when aircraft carriers were the kings of the sea. The present is a much more complex scenario. Missiles are a lethal threat to aircraft carriers, and it is difficult for aircraft carriers to protect themselves. Despite its cost, the aircraft carrier symbolizes a major power's deterrent capability. For example, the US usually shows its military might through aircraft carriers.
As a big country, China's national security cannot be guaranteed simply by having a few aircraft carriers, but it is an indispensable part in building a comprehensive national defense system. The Chinese public understands this. They support developing key weaponry, including aircraft carriers, even though improving their livelihood also calls for more investment. China must have a complete national defense system. It cannot afford having any weak link.
As a rising power, the stronger China becomes, the more pressure it will confront, and with more reason it needs to have the ability to respond to that pressure. In the following decades, China will face tough security situations. The challengers will bear more consequences in confronting China, but at the same time, they will also make us realize our disadvantages.