Any amount appreciated


Any amount appreciated

LAST UPDATE: November 25, 2012


In 1991, after the Soviet Union fell, the second full-size aircraft carrier for the Soviet Union, the Varyag, sister ship to the Kuznetsov, was under construction in the Ukraine. The Ukraine did not have the financial resources to complete her. In 1992 a Chinese delegation visited the Ukraine in the hopes of coming to terms on a purchase price of the unfinished vessel. A suitable purchase price was not agreed upon.

Six years later, in 1998, the Chong Lot Travel Agency, a supposed Macau firm, arranged to buy the Varyag from the Ukraine for $20 million dollars with the stated intention of making the Varyag a casino for commercial profit. As it turned out, Chong Lot had no offices in Macau and was simply a front company for a Hong Kong firm called Chinluck Holding Co. Ltd. As it also turned out, the managing directors of Chinluck had strong ties to the Chinese Navy, the PLAN.

It took three years for this front firm, Chong Lot Travel, to get permission to tow the Varyag through the Istanbul Straits and on to China. That permission was finally granted in 2001 and the following pictures document what has occurred to the Varyag since that time.

The Ukrain Carrier Varyag in Naval Yards in the 1990s, about 70% complete, prior to being towed away by Chong Lot Travel Agency.

Chong Lot Travel Agency prepares to tow the Varyag through the Istanbul Straits in late 2001.

The Varyag arrives in China and docks at the Chinese Dalien Naval shipyards. In 2003 the refit begins.

Work continues on the Varyag in the Dalian naval shipyards through 2004, with several large cranes participating.

The Vayag spends several months of very expensive time in dry dock in the Dalian naval shipyards in 2005.

The Varyag emerges from dry dock painted in official Chinese Navy colors and the refitting continues.

More painting and refit work contiues on the Varyag in 2005 and with flags flying for a ceremony of some sort and a VIP visit.

A Zinc Chromate primer for a non-skid surface is applied to the main deck in 2006, to keep aircraft from sliding.

The Zinc Chromate primer is covered over in 2006 in the Dalian naval shipyards.

A non-skid surface appears to have been added to the Varyag's main deck in late 2006.

Varyag looking very trim and squared away in late 2006 at Dalian naval shipyards.

The forward portion of the Varyag in early 2007 in Dalian. The hull and flight deck seem to be nearing completion.

Overhead view in June 2007. The hull & flight deck seem structurally complete, but the island is incomplete & not fitted.

A satellite view of the Varyag in early 2008 in Dalian. The deck and the vessels's exterior is looking very fit.

In late Arpil, 2009, the Varyag was moved from the pier in Dalian, to a dry dock about two miles distant.

Another view of the Varyag being moved to dry dock near the Dalian shipyards in late April 2009.

The Vayrag in dry dock in April, 2009. Naval experts wondered if major propulsion work was be performed.

The Vayrag with significant equipment on its decks in April, 2009. It was clear that major outfitting would occur.

Varyag Island being rebuilt in late 2009, showing Phased Array Radar structure. (Click pic for higher res)


In 2010 and 2011 the Chinese Navy, the PLAN, began final outfitting of the former Varyag. With Type 1030 30mm CIWS guns and FL-3000N missiles systems (all 18 cell varieties), 12 Tube Anti-sumbmarine Warfare (ASW) rocket launchers, and 24 tube chaff/decoy launchers for defensive weapons and with Ship-borne Active Phased Arrary Radar (SAPAR) and Sea Eagle Radar sensors being fitted, the carrier appeared to be ready for initial trials later in 2011.

2011 Port Bow - FN-3000N missile system, the APAR & Sea Eagle Radar. (Click pic for higher res)

2011 Port Quarter - Type 1030 30mm CIWS, FN-3000N missile sys, APAR & Sea Eagle Radar. (Click pic for higher res)

2011 Starboard Quarter - Type 1030 CIWS, FN-3000N missiles, APAR & Sea Eagle Radar. (Click picfor higher res)

2011 with heat from propulsion units showing. (Click pic for higher res)

This shows the positioning of the CIWS, missile systems & radars. (Click pic for higher res)


Outfitting complete by the end of July 2011. PLAN naval personnel board the vessel for sea trials after dock-side tests.


The PLAN completed dock side testing during the first week of August 2011. This included teting her lighting systems, testing her landing lights, testing her low light systems, testing her engines, landing a helo on the deck, painting her deck, and other tests. After these tests were complete the vessel was ready to conduct her initial sea trials.

Tesing of the lighting systems aboard the carrier. Note the cropped Optical Landing System in the second pic.

The Optical Landing System and how it looks when tested at night.

First landing on deck, helicopter landing.

The carrier tests its engines at dock-side, preparing for sea-trials. (Click pic for higher res)

The carrier, painted and prepared for its initial builder's trials, August 8, 2011. (Click pic for higher res).


After over eight years of refitting, which included major changes internally and externally, including new engines, new weapons systems, completely new sensors, a rebuild of the island, significant internal changes, and all of the initial testing and painting to prepare for it, the 1st aircraft carrier of the People's Republic of China's Navy, went to sea and under her own power, conducted her initial builder's trials. This was a historic day for China, and an historic date in the Western Pacific as China asserts herself on the high seas with this new, powerful vessel.

(Click pic for higher res)

On the 30th of October the carrier left dry dock. On November 29 she left port for her second builder's trial. She had an aviation fuel truck on board which impies there are troubles with the fuel delivery system. While in dry dock she had her deck resurfaced with a new coat of anti-skid material, her hull scraped and painted, but there re no indications that trap wires have been put in place for fixed wing aircraft landings. She was caught by a commercial US satellite conducting exercises at what appears to be either 2/3rds or Standard spped during the trials.

Eight more Sea Trials followed these second biuilders sea trials. She went through a total of ten builder's sea trials through August of 2012 before he hand-over to the official Chinese Navy, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) as described below. Here is the list of the dates and duration of each of her ten builder's trials:

-1st: sea trial (10 Aug 2011 13 Aug 2011) (03 days)
-2nd: sea trial (28 Nov 2011 10 Dec 2011) (12 days)
-3rd: sea trial (20 Dec 2011 29 Dec 2011) (09 days)
-4th: sea trial (07 Jan 2012 16 Jan 2012) (09 days)
-5th: sea trial (19 Apr 2012 30 Apr 2012) (11 days)
-6th: sea trial (07 May 2012 16 May 2012) (09 days)
-7th: sea trial (23 May 2012 - 01 Jun 2012) (09 Days)
-8th: sea trial (07 Jun 2012 - 21 Jun 2012) (14 Days)
-9th: sea trial (06 Jul 2012 - 30 Jul 2012) (24 Days)
-10th:sea trial (27 Aug 2012 - 30 Aug 2012) (03 Days)

Towards the end of these trials, the ex-Varyag was seen to have embarked with her arrestor system fully installed, fueling expectations (and a probability) that she had conducted at least some qualification tests for J-15 aircraft either conducting touch and go, or actual landing tests.


On September 24, 2012, the ex-Varyag was officially commissioned into the People's Libeeration Army Navy (PLAN) as CV-16, Liao Ning, and handed over to the PLAN. This concluded an 11 year epic story for the physical carrier itself, but is just the beginning of her true story now as a fully commissioned carrier and warship for the People's Republic of China. Her new Captain was announced as, Senior Capt. Zhang Zheng, Born 1969.

There is still much to do. Her aiwing of J-15 strike aircraft is not ready yet. 6 prototypes have been built but a full airwing of between 24 and 32 aircraft needs to be built and embarked on the carrier with many months of qualification and training before that airwing will be ready to begin actual, offocial air operations in defense of Chinese national interests.

Video of official PLAN hand-over and commissioning of the Liaoning


On November 23, 2012, it was officially announced that the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) aircraft carrier, CV-16, Liaoning, had conducted its first arrested landings and ski-jump launches of chinese J-15 Naval strike fighters. Many pictures and a video were part of the announcement and picked up by the world-wide press and on the internet. This occured during her second post-commissioning PLAN qualification cruise since her commissioning in September 2012, a month earlier.

However, by looking at her flight deck and jet blast deflector, and seeing the many scuff marks there and jet blast marks on the deflector when these operations were conducted, it is obvious that she had conducted earlier flight trials wherein aircraft operations, including take-offs and landings, occurred and she was readied for the "official" announcement on November 23, 2012. These likely occurred towards the end of her builders trials, 10 of which were conducted including her first sea trials in August of 2011.

Here is the video and pictures of the event which heralded a significant mile stone in Chinese Navy history, wherein Chinese built aircraft were launched and recovered for the first time from the first Chinese aircraft carrier, which places her that much closer, now launching and recovering the principle reasons for her existance...those Chinese naval Strike becoming a fully operational Chinese aircraft carrier.

Video of official J-15 Take-offs and landings on the Liaoning

J-15 Strike Fighter conductiong arrested/rap landing qualifications on CV-16, Liaoning.

J-15 Strike Fighter conducting ramp Take-off qualifications on CV-16, Liaoning.

J-15 Strike Fighter conducting deck qualifications on CV-16, Liaoning.

J-15 Strike Fighter deck personnel being trained on CV-16, Liaoning.


Several artists's conceptions and doctored photos showing what the PLAN CV-16, Liaoning aircraft carrier will look like once at sea conducting full operations.

(Click pic for higher res)

In 2009, at the Wuhan Naval Research facilities, the PLAN embarked on building a full scale deck and island mockup of the Liao Ning. This included the ski-ramp and complete deck markings, the island superstructure and a complete array of sensors were added there. These fittings have been repeated in real-life on the Varyag itself as its island is rebuilt. Two full-size mockup aircraft were also placed on the mockup deck, one a Z-8 helicopter, possible a model of the new AEW helo, and a J-15 strike fighter, a carrier variant of the Chinese built J11 aircraft outfitted for carrier duties, including strike at sea.

A full-scale mockup of the Liao Ning deck and island being constructed at the Wuhan Naval Research Institute.

Full scale Liao Ning island mockup under construction at the Wuhan Naval Research Institute.

Full scale Liao Ning deck constructed at the Wuhan Naval Research Institute.

Full scale helicopter (Z8) and strike fighter (J15) on the Liao Ning mockup deck at the Wuhan Naval Research Institute.

In October of 2006, the Kommersant online newspaper in Moscow announced a deal between Russia and China where the Russians would sell up to 50 Su-33 fighters to China for $2.5 billion. Details seemed to indicate that China will spend $100 million to buy two Su-33 fighters from Komsomolsk-on-Amur Production Association for evaluation, with delivery of those two in 2007. There appeared to be an option for 12 more Su-33 fighters, with the potential for another 36 SU-33s. In that event, the deal would have totaled the $2.5 billion. The SU-33 fighter is the navalized version of the SU-27 fighter that China has purchased in large numbers from the Russians and now license builds themselves. It is the same fighter that the Russians use on their carrier, the Kuznetsov, which is the older sister ship to the ex-Varyag now turned Liao Ning.

But the deals for large numbers of SU-33 fell through and the Chinese designed their own variant from their licensed built J11 (SU-27) Aircraft and called it the J-15. In addition, during those years, the Chinese were negotiating with the Russians regarding the KA-31 helicopter, which is the helicopter the Russians use on their carrier for AEW duties. The Chinese have also introduced designs for prop-driven AEW aircraft of their own similar to the United States E-2 Hawkeye aircraft. The efforts by the PLAN to obtain navalized, carrier fighters and AEW aircraft from Russia (or design their own), coupled with the installation of a non-skid surface on the flight deck of the carrier, and its painting in official PLAN colors, made it abudnantly clear that this vessel would be China's first fully operational aircraft carrier, which she ultimately became when commissioned in September of 2012.

The SU-33 naval fighters that the Chinese negotiated for in 2005 and 2006. Two were puichased and delivered.

The J-15 PLAN strke fighter, developed from the SU-33 but updated and modernized. (Click pic for higher res).

In 2005 and 2006 the Chinese negotiated with Russia for the KA-31 AEW helo, used by the Russians on their carrier.

In 2009, a Chinese Z-8 helicopter outfitted for AEW capabilities underwent flight tests.

While all of this has occured, the PLAN has embarked on a phenominal naval ship building and modernization program, simultaneously working on ten to twelve new classes of major combatants and building several of each at one time. This program has already developed and launched all of the necessary modern classes of guided missile destroyers, guided missile frigates, attack submarines, and supply ships to form the basis for a very powerful carrier strike group once a carrier is available...and to defend and supply it in the blue water, as the following pictures attest.

Six AEGIS-like area air-defense DDGs, the Type 052C Luzhao Class DDG with VLS and APAR have been built. An upgraded design,
the Type 052D DDG, has since been launched with 2-3 more of those building. Very capable carrier escorts.

Two more modern, area air-defense DDGs equiped with VLS, the Type o51C DDG. These ships would be very capable carrier escorts.

Two of four modern & very powerful Russian DDGs, specifically designed to hunt super-carriers.

Two new PLAN multi-purpose guided missile DDGs, the Type 052B DDG suitable for carrier escort duties and capable in ASuW, AAW, and ASW.

Three of sixteen new PLAN multi-purpose FFGs, the Type 054A, Jiangkai Class FFG suitable for carrier escort duties.

Two of four or more new PLAN SSNs, the Type-093 class, capable of escoprt duties for a PLAN carrier.

The new large Qiandaohu Class at sea replenishment ships, capable of replenishing a PLAN carrier strike group.


This author and researcher has long held that the PLAN would launch the former Varyag as soon as late 2011. They did so. It was also this author's opinion that the new Chinese carrier would not be just an experimental or test platform, but a full functional STOBAR aircraft carrier. With her hand over to the PLAN as the CV-16, Liao Ning, and the comments made that day by the Chinese Defense Minister as rep[orted by Reuters, regarding her is apparent that that has occurred as well.
China's Ministry of Defence said the newly named Liaoning aircraft carrier would "raise the overall operational strength of the Chinese navy" and help Beijing "effectively protect national sovereignty, security and development interests". Reuters, Sep 24, 2012
It is the continued opinion of this author that the PLAN will develop her into a fully operational aircraft carrier with a wing of J-15 strike aircraft. This air wing will be supported by either indegenous Z-8 AEW hellicopters, or purchased or licend built KA-31 AEW helos operating off the carrier in conjunction with other ASW and SAR helicopters. Training will be ongoing for several years as the PLAN gains experience in carrier operations, and will prepare them for the introduction of at least two of their own indigenous carriers in the late 20-teens, which will include Chinese indigenous navalized aircraft and their own, more capable AEW and EW aircraft. Ultimately, it is this author's opinion that the PLAN will build 4-5 aircraft carriers and have at least three at sea at all times with fully functional aircraft carrier strike groups in support.

For more information on other aircraft carriers, see
For more information on US Naval development in the 21st Century, see US NAVY 21ST CENTURY.
For more information about AEGIS and AEGIS-like escort vessels, see AEGIS Vessels of the World.
For more information on China's Naval buildup, see click on the "HOME PAGE" Tab at the top of this page.
Note: Jeff Head has maintained the Rising Sea Dragon site for years at his cost. Now donations help offset hosting & bandwidth costs for continued operations.
Jeff Head is an engineering consultant with many years experience in the power, defense, and computer industries. He currently works for the federal government helping maintain and protect regional infrastructure. He is a member of the U.S. Naval Institute, and is also the author of a self-published and best-selling series of military techno-thrillers called the Dragon's Fury that projects a fictional third world war arising out of current events. You can learn more about that series and his other, non-fiction work, by clicking on the pictures of the novel covers below:

Dragon's Fury

Dragon's Fury - World War Against America and the West
: Following great success in the War on Terror, politicians and analysts alike thought that future global conflict was impossible...but they were wrong. Journey into a possible future where Islamic terrorists sharpen their horrific skills & ally with Red China. In such a future, can the U.S. & western civilization survive?
Stand at Klamath Falls

The Stand at Klamath Falls
: How rural western farmers and their supporters stood up to entrenched environmentalism, activist judges, and agencies of the Federal gGovernment in southwestern Oregon...and prevailed.


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