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[Opinion] Northeast Asia’s Competition over Aircraft Carriers

[Opinion] Northeast Asia’s Competition over Aircraft Carriers

Posted July. 21, 2005 03:05,   


The U.S. usually utilizes aircraft carriers when it wants to clearly demonstrate its willingness to intervene in conflict zones. When the situations in the Middle East or the Korean peninsula became urgent, the U.S. deployed its aircraft carriers to these regions. A U.S. aircraft carrier fleet includes an aircraft carrier, seven to eight cruisers and destroyers, 70 to 80 airplanes, and a submarine. The fire power is comparable to the entire military power of an average small country. The U.S. has 11 aircraft carriers.

Apart from the U.S., France, the U.K., Russia, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, India, and Thailand own aircraft carriers. However, their aircraft carriers cannot be compared with those of the U.S. in size and performance. For example, Thailand’s light aircraft carrier (11,400 ton grade) is considered as a large landing ship by the standards of the U.S. whose aircraft carriers are mostly 70,000 to 80,000 ton grade. During the Cold War era, the U.S.’ capability in aircraft carriers was overwhelmingly superior to that of the Soviet Union. While the U.S. aircraft carriers on which state-of-the-art combat planes, including F-18, could take off and land, those of the Soviet was capable of loading vertical take-off and landing crafts such as helicopters which have relatively inferior fighting power.

It is said that there is a heated competition over aircraft carriers in Northeast Asia. China and Japan is at the center of the attention. Rumors has been circulating for a long time that China is secretly building a 78,000-ton-grade aircraft carrier. Japan already owns a 13,000-ton-grade landing ship that can be used as a light aircraft carrier and is pushing ahead with a plan of making two aircraft carrier fleets in the medium-to-long term. “Dokdo,” Korea’s recently launched 14,000-ton-grade landing ship, is largely regarded as a light aircraft carrier by neighboring countries.

The reason why China and Japan are embarking on a competition over aircraft carriers is clear: which country owns which aircraft carriers becomes an important variable in the direction of the hegemony of Northeast Asia. Nonetheless, the competition is nothing but a “children’s quarrel” from the U.S. perspective. While a competition over aircraft carriers with diesel engine is going on in Northeast Asia, the U.S. is studying an “aircraft carrier which can evade enemy attacks and submerge,” beyond the era of the nuclear-propulsion aircraft carrier. This is why people say, “Keeping a close relationship with the U.S. is better than pouring money into the arms race.”

Song Moon-hong, Editorial writer, songmh@donga.com