China remains the only major military power that does not possess an aircraft carrier but the country is fast moving towards acquiring a fleet of indigenous carriers and the training programme for pilots is a rare official acknowledgement of the project.
As the article notes, the training programme is a significant milestone in China’s quest for a potent naval force. “The first pilot programme of recruiting pilot cadets is an important decision of the PLA Navy to realise a strategic transformation in the new period,” it says.
The news is being keenly watched by Indian maritime security policy makers as it gives an insight into China’s secretive aircraft carrier project. The first batch of pilots undergoing training on ‘basic theories of surface ship and flight’ will pass out from the academy in four years ¿ indicating that China will have a potent training platform for actual ship borne fighters by that time.
As reported by The Indian Express, the Indian Navy also estimates that China will get its first functional aircraft carrier — a refurbished Soviet era Kiev class warship — by 2012 and will use it exclusively to train Navy personnel.
Incidentally, the Russian origin carrier, which has been renamed as the ‘Shilang’, has been transferred to the Dalian Naval Academy and is being fitted with a Chinese power plant. The Indian Navy believes that the carrier will never be able to function as a full fledged warship but will be used to carry out basic landing and take off practice.
While China is fast moving towards acquiring an aircraft carrier, analysts say that it could take nearly two decades ¿ the time required to train crews and fine tune operations aboard warships of this size - to have a fully operational fleet.
The US also estimates that China is capable of starting construction of an indigenous aircraft carrier by the end of the decade. The latest Pentagon report on the Chinese military, however, says that the country ‘could not have an operational, domestically-produced aircarft carrier before 2015’.