The Ministry of Defense has issued a number of statements on the question whether China should build its own domestic aircraft carriers. The latest states that the "Liaoning" is China's first aircraft carrier of China, but it will not necessarily be the only one. Military expert Yin Zhuo said in an interview that one aircraft carrier alone would be unable to meet the demands of medium/high-intensity combat.
During a routine Ministry of Defense press conference in August, a journalist observed: "According to media reports, China is already building its first domestically-produced aircraft carrier – which would be China's second aircraft carrier - through the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Corporation. The news that China is going to build a new aircraft carrier has been widely reported by many foreign media."
The Ministry of Defense spokesman, Yang Yujun, responded: "We have said that the 'Liaoning' is China's first aircraft carrier, but it will not necessarily be the only one. We will plan the development and construction of aircraft carriers according to the requirements of defense and military development, and we will take into account all relevant factors."
Yin Zhuo said that the reply of the spokesman of the Ministry of Defense should be interpreted from a military perspective. Aircraft carriers have maintenance cycles - intermediate maintenance should be carried out after about two years in service, and a major overhaul is required after several more years, at which point the aircraft carrier will be out of service for more than a year. If a country has only one aircraft carrier, this will limit its ability to conduct any combat mission during this period. If overseas threats are limited enough to permit the absence of the aircraft carrier for an extended period, one carrier may be sufficient. But generally speaking, it is sensible for a country to have at least two aircraft carriers. If there is a requirement for one aircraft carrier on permanent stand by for operations, there should be at least two carriers available.
According to Yin Zhuo, a single aircraft carrier will struggle to meet the demands of medium/high-intensity combats missions. In normal combat, replenishment of fuel and water is required every three to five days, and ammunition every five to six days. But in the case of high-intensity combat, the ammunition requirement may rise to every three to five days, similar to the requirements of fuel and water. Ammunition is replenished by air, generally by means of helicopters, and fuel and water are replenished by sea. Shipborne aircraft cannot operate during the refueling process.
Since the aircraft carrier is in a war zone, it should retire to the edge of the war zone for replenishment. Clearly the enemy does not apply the idea of an 'edge' to the war zone, and will therefore launch its attacks whenever it discovers the carrier. Therefore, a double aircraft carrier battle group is usually needed, in which one carrier covers the other. Since the replenishment of aircraft carriers takes a relatively long period of over 8 hours for the whole formation, and shipborne aircraft are unable to take off or land during this period, this represents a significant limitation to the combat abilities of the carrier. Therefore, carrier battle groups are usually deployed in formations of two carriers. This is always the case in the U.S.