Downplaying the threat from the China PLA Navy with periodic reports of its move to acquire an aircraft carrier, the former Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral (retd.) Arun Prakash said on Thursday it was not going to happen soon.

“The PLA Navy is some years away from attaining [aircraft] carrier capability,” he said at the conclusion of a two-day seminar at the annual maritime power conference 2010, organised by the National Maritime Foundation.

Referring to China focussing on expansion of its Navy for the last two decades, possibly to address areas of maritime concern including Taiwan and its extended trade and energy sea lanes running across the Indian Ocean, he said the lack of an integral aviation capability is considered by the Chinese leadership to be a major handicap.

In its quest for an aircraft carrier during the last three decades China purchased hulls of three de-commissioned ships which led to periodic reports that a new or refurbished carrier unveiling was imminent.

“However, acquiring or even building a carrier is not China’s real problem; their dilemma is the type of aircraft that is going to be operated from the ship,” he said. In the current scenario China was unlikely to have access to a steam catapult to launch an aircraft from the deck and its option is confined to two Russian aircraft that use short take-off and arrested recovery, he added.

So, either Russia will have to give sufficient numbers of either MiG29 K [which India has procured for its aircraft carrier] or Su-33 fighter to equip its carriers or China design carrier aircraft in a hurry.

The Indian Navy has travelled this route and knows that aircraft acquisition, training of air and ship crew and gathering operational expertise in carrier operations are factors that take a lot of time and effort. “I would therefore say that the PLA Navy is some years away from attaining carrier capability.”

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