China's Aircraft Carrier: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Dr. David Lai
China test-sailed its first aircraft carrier on August 10, 2011. The maiden sail was remarkably low key, but its significance is far-reaching.

China’s journey to this debut started in the mid-1990s when it approached Ukraine for the possibility of acquiring the half-built, but practically abandoned, Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag. The keel of this hulk was laid in 1985 and the ship was intended to serve in the Soviet Pacific Fleet, however, the construction was abruptly halted with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ukraine, home to the Soviet Union’s warship industry, kept the unfinished carrier as a “divorce asset,” but it had no money or need to complete the project. China eventually acquired the ship with a $20 million auction bid in 1998. At the time, this sea monster was literally an empty and rusty shell, since all of the critical equipment had been removed, including the rudder. China, however, was determined to bring it back to life.