- 24 Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark fighters.
- 6 Changhe Z-18F anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters.
- 4 Changhe Z-18J airborne early warning helicopters.
- 2 Harbin Z-9C rescue helicopters.
The article was based on quotes from Cao Dongwei, senior colonel and researcher at the People’s Liberation Army Naval Research Institute. The Liaoning is a refurbished Soviet-era Varyag aircraft carrier procured in 1998 by China and commissioned in 2012.
“The overall lineup certainly looks plausible, as the mix of helicopters and fighters is similar to how the Russians outfit their example of this carrier,” said Roger Cliff, senior fellow with the Asia Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council. “The striking thing about this carrier and aircraft lineup is that every single item is based on a foreign system. The Liaoning is a Russian-built ship fitted out with Chinese systems. The helicopters are based on Eurocopter designs. And the J-15 fighters are based on the Russian Su-33 design.”
China’s first carrier air wing reflects a balance between combat and support aircraft seen in the Liaoning’s Russian counterpart, said Richard Fisher, a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
“The Soviets intended their carrier to provide a defensive extension for their pro-nuclear ballistic missile submarine ‘anti-access’ missile forces carried by their nuclear submarines, large surface combatants and land-based strike bombers. The Liaoning can perform that mission for the Chinese Navy as well as form the centerpiece for a carrier battle group that could overwhelm most Asian navies, but would still require extensive land-based support to oppose a US Navy carrier battle group.”
According to Chinese defense industry brochures acquired at air shows around Asia, the Z-9 and Z-18 helicopters have numerous configurations for both civilian and military use in China.
The Z-9 configuration is based on the Eurocopter SA365/AS365 Dauphin 2 and built by the Harbin Aviation Industry Group. According to Harbin brochures, the “C” search variant can be equipped with an electronic flight instrument system and ZLC-1 surface search radar. Harbin also makes the “EC” ASW variant equipped with a dipping sonar, torpedo and surface search radar. Two Arriel 2C turbo-shaft engines power both. The WZ8D engine might also power some of these aircraft, which is a copy of the Arriel 2B1A turboshaft engine. The WZ8 powers the Z-11W light attack helicopter.
Liaoning’s other rotary airframe, the Z-18, is built by the Changhe Aircraft Industries Corp. and comes in only the “F” and “J” military series. The Z-18 and Avicopter’s AC313 civilian variant are based on the Changhe Z-8. The Z-8, in turn, is a copy of the Aerospatiale SA-321 Super Frelon. It is a medium tri-turbine helicopter powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6B-67A engine for its civilian variant and possibly an improved variant of the WZ6 engine based on an older WZ6 used in the Z-8.
On Aug. 12, the Chinese-language Qianjiang Evening News reported the Z-18F ASW variant had four eight-tube sonobuoy launchers, along with four Yu-7K anti-submarine torpedoes or four YJ-91 (Kh-31P) anti-ship cruise missiles. The Z-18F would also be assigned to the new Type 071 Yuzhao-class amphibious transport docks, which are capable of storing four Z-18 or Z-8 helicopters in the hangar.
“I find it implausible that the Z-18 could carry four YJ-91s. That is a big missile — each one weighs 600 [kilograms],” Cliff said. “Something like the C-701 [117 kilograms] seems more plausible. I doubt if the Z-18 can carry 32 sonobuoys, four anti-submarine torpedoes, and four [anti-ship cruise missiles] all at the same time.”
Other problems include the lack of long-range radar and anti-submarine fixed-wing aircraft, Fisher said.
James Bussert, co-author of the book, “People’s Liberation Army Navy: Combat Systems Technology,” said Liaoning will need to add shore-based maritime patrol aircraft, such as the Tupolev Tu-154 ASW aircraft and the Shaanxi Y-8 airborne early warning and control aircraft, “because they are within range of most carrier operation areas and provide unique capabilities not on the carrier’s aircraft, such as long loiter time, extreme range and room for several sensors, communications and weapons not available to helicopters.” He also said the lack of a carrier onboard delivery aircraft, such as the US Navy’s C-2 Greyhound, limits the carrier’s logistics capability.
Fisher said these deficiencies will likely be corrected with future aircraft carriers, which are expected to be larger and use flat conventional takeoff decks and catapult launch for heavier fighters, plus fixed-wing radar and anti-submarine patrol aircraft.
Fisher said that in the South China Sea, Liaoning’s carrier air wing could assist China’s imposition of gradual military control of the area. Along with supporting naval forces, Liaoning could deter attacks from Vietnam or dominate the lightly armed Philippine Navy, Fisher said.
“It could also complement combat aircraft deployed to Woody Island in the Paracel Group to counter future US air and naval forces deployed to Philippine bases,” he said.
Source: De Peet Journal