East Asia Sea Stories

Big Head of Steam

Big Head of Steam

India has had two serious problems with their formerly-Soviet aircraft carrier, the Vikramaditya (nee Baku), one of which I knew about but the other one was news:


India’s refurbished Soviet-made aircraft carrier Vikramaditya suffered a boiler failure during her 42-day trip from Russia’s Sevmash shipyard, where she was rebuilt, to the Indian Karwar naval base on the country’s west coast starting in late November.

Normally this kind of thing wouldn’t be worth blogging about, except that it has broader ramifications slightly closer to home. China’s aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is also a steam-powered ex-Soviet vessel.

Liaoning began sea trials at her northern home port of Dalian in the summer of 2011 and, late last year, deployed for the first time on a month-long jaunt down the Chinese coast to a new carrier base recently built in the country’s south. That voyage kept Liaoning and her escorts within quick flying distance of Chinese bases at all time—a far cry from the truly globe-spanning deployments that American carriers routinely conduct.

At the same time that Liaoning was steaming into the South China Sea, thousands of miles away her kin vessel Vikramaditya was being hobbled by boiler failure.

It’s hard to say how worried the Chinese are about Liaoning’s powerplant. Pres. Xi Jinping inspected the carrier in August and reportedly told the crew to “build up combat readiness, logistics and support expeditiously.”


It can’t be easy to build a blue-water navy based around an aging and unreliable steam-powered ski-deck baby aircraft carrier. What China is getting however is priceless experience in carrier ops, which will serve them well as they expand their fleet — and extend their reach.


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