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Liaoning—Paper Tiger or Growing Cub?

Author: Colonel Brian M. Killough, USAF, Military Fellow, U.S. Air Force
September 27, 2012
Council on Foreign Relations

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This is a guest post by Colonel Brian M. Killough, USAF, on the blog "Asia Unbound."

On Tuesday, the People's Republic of China(PRC) joined 9 other nations—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, India, Thailand, Spain, Italy, and Brazil—that have aircraft carriers in their naval arsenal. But what does that mean for nations in the region and how should we assess the long-term implications?

For many regional observers, the announcement hardly ruffles feathers. In fact, some see it as a liability. For example, "The fact is the aircraft carrier is useless for the Chinese Navy," You Ji, a visiting senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore, said in an interview. He continued, "If it is used against America, it has no survivability. If it is used against China's neighbors, it's a sign of bullying." Chinese leaders are the first to admit the Liaoning is for training purposes only and in fact, China's air force doesn't even have aircraft capable of landing on the carrier. Furthermore, carriers are more vulnerable without their protective and supporting battle groups. These battle groups require technology, investment, and training over the course of a decade or more to bring them together as an effective fighting force. Meanwhile, as pointed out above, as a concentration of capabilities, resources, and manpower, a carrier quickly becomes both a high-value asset and a high-value target for adversaries.

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