It will be interesting to see what the differences in the configuration are between Liaoning and the second carrier.
The speculation is that it too will use the “ski ramp” method for launching aircraft. Unlike US carrier with steam catapults, the ski ramp system is much simpler, but also limits the weapons and fuel any jet can launch with. China has worked closely with Brazil (which operates a carrier with steam catapults) so they should have access to the technology. And steam catapults are hardly new. They’ve been around for 60 years. Steam catapults may not be the easiest technology to master, but it is a rather straightforward engineering challenge.
We in the US think of our aircraft carriers almost exclusively in terms of power projection. From Korea, through Vietnam, Desert Storm and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the role of the carrier has been to sit off the enemy coast and send attacks ashore.
But China’s stated strategy is one of Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD). That is, they are structuring their forces and doctrine to deny us the ability to conduct operations in certain areas, or make them prohibitively expensive in lives and political support.
If the follow on carriers in Chinese service do use a ski ramp, that would effectively limit their fighters to a loadout of a modest number of air-to-air missiles, and a decent internal fuel load. So if Chinese carriers cannot reasonably be expected to perform War At Sea Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) attacks on our carrier groups, what is their possible doctrine?
Here’s my theory, based solely on PIOMA:
A Chinese carrier battle group of one or two carriers and escorts is intended to provide local air superiority over itself, and execute limited challenges to air superiority over our carrier forces.
China wouldn’t even have to secure air superiority over our carrier group, but instead, merely make credible challenges from time to time, while avoiding being destroyed.
It doesn’t take a lot of credible threat to one of our carriers before a large portion of the sorties generated have to be devoted solely to Combat Air Patrols (CAP) over the carrier for self protection. Indeed, the political consequences of losing a carrier, or even having one badly damaged, would tend to make force protection the first imperative for any US Navy operation. To say our current Navy is rather risk averse is to put it mildly.
And so, with a majority of the sorties of this notional carrier task force devoted to protecting itself, it has essentially become a self-licking ice cream cone. The carrier exists to provide air cover to the fleet, which the fleet is there to support carrier operations. See what I mean?
What do you think?