China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning ship, sailed out from a military port in Qingdao of east China’s Shandong province to the South China Sea on the morning of November 26, accompanied by the guided missile destroyers “Shenyang” and “Shijiazhuang”, the guided missile frigates “Yantai” and “Weifang” of the Navy of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLAN).

The Liaoning ship and its accompanying warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait into the South China Sea on November 28, and made its first berth at a military port in Sanya, Hainan province on the morning of November 29.

1. “Members” of Liaoning ship taskforce

The Liaoning ship taskforce is accompanied by 2 Type-051C guided missile destroyers, “Shenyang” and “Shijiazhuang”, and 2 Type-054A guided missile frigates, “Yantai” and “Weifang”. They all come from the First Flotilla of Destroyers under the North China Sea Fleet of the PLAN and are all new-type warships which entered into service after 2006.

According to reports, the Type-051C guided missile destroyer has a displacement of 7,100 tons with the highest speed of 48 kilometers per hour and a crew of 290 people.

The destroyer is equipped with the vertical launching system and carries 48 Russia-made S-300 air-defense guided missiles, 8 C-803 anti-ship guided missiles, 1 single-barrel 100-mm primary gun, 2 30-mm rapid-firing guns, torpedo launchers and so on.

The lesser-tonnage Type-054A frigate has a displacement of 4,300 tons with the highest speed of 49 kilometers per hour and a crew of 165 people. The equipment on board includes: 1 76-mm primary gun, 2 30-mm rapid-firing guns and 8 C-803 anti-ship guided missiles.

With stress on anti-submarine warfare, the frigate is equipped with the anti-submarine torpedo (ASW) launching system, anti-submarine rockets, and the 32-unit vertical launching systems for air-defense and anti-submarine guided missiles.

It also has a ship-borne helicopter to carry out anti-submarine missions. The radar, sonar and electronic systems on the ship are all home-made.

2. Current level of combat effectiveness

According to the report, the aircraft carrier battle group designed by China is similar to the usual practice adopted by the U.S. Navy, that is, 3 to 4 destroyers, 1 to 2 frigates, 1 assault nuclear submarine and 1 supply ship.

Compared with the U.S. aircraft carrier battle group, China has less nuclear submarines and their performance is still unsatisfactory. That’s probably the reason why it is not included in the aircraft carrier taskforce.

3. Possible future “transformation”

According to current situations, the aircraft carrier taskforce will be composed of 2 to 3 air-defense guided missile destroyers and 3 to 4 guided missile frigates together with 1 to 2 attack nuclear submarines. There will likely be 1 to 2 large-size destroyers to serve as the core of the formation in the future.

If this configuration can be materialized, it will become very close to a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group in its heyday.

Given the consideration of the smaller tonnage and bomb load of the warships of the PLAN than those of the U.S. warships, the combat effectiveness of this taskforce is probably close to the current carrier strike group (CSG) of the U.S. (1-2 cruisers, 2-3 destroyers and other supporting warships).

4. Weakness pointed out by experts

What are the shortcomings of China’s aircraft carrier taskforce?

According to experts, there is still a significant weakness for the PLAN that hasn’t been solved yet, that is, no supply ship for the Liaoning aircraft carrier taskforce.

Since an aircraft carrier taskforce has formidable consumption of fuel, ammunition, food and water, it requires a great-tonnage comprehensive supply ship to satisfy the need of materials in the taskforce. Meanwhile, the requirement of high speed operation by the aircraft carrier taskforce poses an extremely high demand on the speed of the supply ship.

A large-scale taskforce of fast-speed support ships with gas turbines, over 30,000 tons of replacement, and the maximum speed of 25-plus knots, will be the important goal for the PLAN in the next phase.

It is for the first time that the Liaoning ship is fully winged by its escort “bodyguards”. It is too early to say that the combat effectiveness of the Chinese aircraft carrier is formed.