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China Starts Carrier Aviator Class

The rumors, speculation and fear about China and its plans to build a true blue water fleet, complete with carrier groups and all that would mean for the shift in power in the Pacific, appear to have gained some substance.

The respected naval analyst Norman Polmar is hearing reports "that 50 Chinese naval officers have begun a pilot training program at the Dalian Naval Academy to provide a cadre of carrier-based aviators." [FYI -- the picture is of a unique building near Shanghai. It is not a ship.]

He also says that the Chinese graduated nine Navy pilots in the 1980 from a three-year training course and they have become destroyer commanding officers. "Some observers believe that these men could become the commanding officers of a future Chinese carrier force. The program was interesting because Chinese naval aviators -- like their Soviet counterparts -- are not "line" officers in the Western sense and normally do not serve as ship's company, and cannot succeed to command of a ship."

As Polmar notes, "the Chinese Navy already has a large, shore-based air force, which includes more than 400 aircraft, mostly fighter/attack types, but also a score of Chinese-produced Tu-16 Badger strike aircraft as well as training and transport aircraft. There are some 26,000 personnel assigned to the naval air arm, according to the web site "Periscope."

The training program for the 50 students is reported by some sources to cover a four-year period. The training will largely be conducted at the Faculty of Automation Engineering at the Dalian school, which in one of several Chinese naval education institutions. The students will also learn seamanship alongside their colleagues who will become surface ship and submarine specialists.

The program will include flight training. The major questions are (1) will their flight training include carrier operations and (2) how and when will China acquire a carrier. With respect to the first, while simulated carrier-deck training can be conducted ashore, at some stage the student pilots must go aboard ship. This could be done through agreements to train aboard a foreign carrier -- possibly Russian or Indian. The U.S. Navy periodically permits carrier ops from its carriers for the carrier-less Argentine naval air arm."

Polmar reports that the long and deep fog about Chinese plans to actually build a carrier has not lifted much.

He says the recurring reports that the Chinese are finishing the former Soviet carrier Varyag,or plan to build a carrier close to the Nimitz class "are highly unlikely. Other than a new coat of paint, the Varyag has had no work done on her since arriving at Dalian; she lacks electronic gear, radars, and other vital equipment, and her engines are inoperable."

Regardless of the questions, But Polmar believes the Chinese do plan to build at least one carrier: "There is no question: The Chinese Navy is seeking to develop a carrier capability; but there are many, many questions about how that goal will be achieved."t

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