As China's first refitted aircraft carrier sets sail, China and the rest of the world are abuzz with all kinds of information about China's construction of an aircraft carrier. The questions that have been frequently asked include: Why is China building the aircraft carrier? Will the South China Sea be safer with the aircraft carrier? Dare we use the aircraft carrier when our territorial waters are being intruded upon? How long will it take to transition from the "Varyag" training carrier to a carrier with real battle effectiveness?”
It is normal that there are various arguments and opinions about these questions. However, some wrong information from these arguments and opinions should be clarified so that it will not continue to mislead the people. For example, somebody says it is a huge waste of money to build the aircraft carrier because Russia has only one carrier and did not build a new one in the past nine years. But we must also see that the United Kingdom and France are planning to build three new carriers jointly. In the past, Russia had built nine aircraft carriers in total. Russia has changed its military strategy to pay more attention to the construction of nuclear submarines.
Somebody argues that it is good to use the carrier to protect the South China Sea, but it is still a great waste using it to defend the Hainan Island or "Greater Shanghai." This kind of opinion is only half right, because the deterrent of the carrier is usually larger than its practical effectiveness. The unique strategic maneuver of the carrier means that it can transfer the air-to-ground firepower to specific sea area for a military mission, without being affected by geographical limitations. The deterrent of this kind of capacity plays a significant role in protecting both the high seas and coastal waters.
As for the question of whether China dares to use the aircraft carrier when its territorial waters are being infringed, the answer is obvious. The aircraft could be simply regarded as a mobile maritime airport. Essentially, it is a kind of naval vessel or super battleship that is ready for fulfilling its military missions and maritime battles. If we do not have the courage or will to use it to solve territorial disputes, why would we have built it? Are we spending countless money and occupying quite a part of the national budget to build it only for admiring it or scaring the countries that provoke China? If it is necessary, China will use the aircraft carrier and other kinds of battleships to solve disputes. That is natural and logical.
China needed to build an ocean fleet to safeguard its maritime interests when putting forward the strategy of peaceful rise. China’s construction of aircraft carriers aims to better protect its maritime interests. In fact, whether or not China has aircraft carriers will not affect its determination to assure its territorial integrity or its capacity to fight any country with ill maritime practice. China will have greater confidence and determination after owning aircraft carriers. China will unswervingly safeguard its maritime interests without aircraft carriers.
Following the technological development, particularly the progress in missile technology, the roles of aircraft carriers are under question because aircraft carriers have fatal shortcomings: conspicuous marks and low defense capabilities.
Furthermore, a single aircraft carrier has absolutely no fighting power and needs the protection of a huge fleet. Both aircraft carrier construction costs and maintenance and training expense are very high. However, the concerns are far less important than China’s strategic needs. It could be said that the political significance of building aircraft carriers is greater than its military significance. Whether or not China has aircraft carriers is vitally important to a country like China with a vast maritime territory. Without aircraft carriers, China will neither control the air nor maintain effective presence in regions that are far away from its coastal territory.