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It's been revealed that the Chinese are building their first aircraft carrier, the Varyag. At 300 metres in length, it will be 30 metres shorter than a US Nimitz class super-carrier. The hull of the Varyag dates back to the 1980s, was initially constructed by the Russians, and sat in a dockyard in the Ukraine rusting until it was purchased by the Chinese. While the vessel is set for sea trials later this year, the Chinese still have to master its use, including learning how to launch and recover jets, which should take them several more years to accomplish.|
The fact that the Chinese will possess a carrier has some defence analysts concerned, but they'd be the sort that view any alteration in the current global status quo discomforting. The United States currently has 11 carriers, all Nimitz class boats, with three new carriers currently in production, all of which are new Ford class super-carriers. Of the three, the keel of one has been laid, one has been cut, and the third is slated for production and expected in 2023.
Currently the largest carriers in the world, Nimitz class super-carriers have an approximate displacement of 102,000 tonnes, are propelled by two Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors to four screws, can achieve over 30 knots, have an unlimited range, and carry a crew of 5,680, which includes air wing personnel. Each of them also carry between 85 and 90 aircraft. The next largest carrier in the world is currently the flagship of the Russian navy, the Admiral Kuznetsov – it being the only carrier in the Russian navy. The Varyag was supposed to be the second in its class, but construction on it was halted after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its statistics are vastly inferior to that of the Nimitz class, as are those of France's Charles de Gaulle.
If you're wondering what the global breakdown looks like:
***United States: 11 carriers
***Russia: 1 carrier
***France: 1 carrier
***Italy: 2 carriers
***India: 1 carrier
***Brazil: 1 carrier
***Netherlands: 1 carrier
***Thailand: 1 carrier
***United Kingdom: 1 carrier
Besides being nowhere near in the same league as Nimitz class carriers, the US possesses two more active carriers than the rest of the world combined. Each of those carriers is the lead command vessel of a naval group, or CSG (carrier strike group). Each CSG consists of a carrier and its air wing, a minimum of one cruiser, a minimum of two destroyers/frigates and logistical support vessels. The inclusion of submarines is never officially listed, as to do so would admit their presence and therefore limit their capabilities.
A single US carrier strike group is, at present, the most powerful military asset in the world. In the case of the US navy, a CSG has the ability to deploy amphibious ready groups (marines/special forces); establish air supremacy in a given theatre of operation; operate in all weather conditions 24 hours a day (save those that pose a threat to the group's immediate security); are designed to be able to project power ashore to deal with a multitude of sophisticated land-based threats, such as missile defence systems; and, above all, can deploy theatre ballistic missiles that possess a range of between 300 to 3,500 kilometres (tactical-intercontinental). That aspect changes if the group is accompanied by a ballistic submarine (SSBN), which has the ability to launch up to 24 Trident II's with a START-limited five MIRV's per missile, each of which can be configured to deliver W88s, which have a maximum yield of 475 kilotonnes – roughly 36 times more powerful per warhead than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
In short, a single CSG could – if fully unleashed – devastate most nations on earth.
If you're wondering if the Chinese have subs capable of launching nuclear weapons, the answer is yes. At present they are believed to possess at least one 094, which has the ability to launch an estimated 20 to 24 Type 3 JL-2 SLBM's. The Chinese are believed to be building two more 094s, with some claiming that more than one is now in service. Despite this, the Chinese government has yet to recklessly unleash the 094 on the west – surprise, surprise.
By comparison, the US has 18 Ohio class subs, 14 of which are Trident II SSBN's that are capable of carrying 24 SLBMs – each of which can, if unrestricted by treaties, deploy 12 independent warheads per missile at a maximum range of 12,000 kilometres. If fully laden, that's 288 nuclear warheads per boat, each possessing a maximum yield of 475 kilotonnes.
What an amazing technological age we live in. We can't feed the world, but by God we can blow it up.