A picture of China’s first aircraft carrier before it was eventually completed has surfaced on the Chinese internet.
The images showed up on Tencent’s microblog and show a rusty, unfinished hulk.
The ship, built for the USSR but never completed, was towed to China where it eventually became the carrier Liaoning.
The article also lists the technical challenges naval engineers faced, particularly with the ship’s unfinished—and largely absent—propulsion systems.
In the early 1980s, the Soviet Union began construction on a new generation of aircraft carriers designed to match U.S. carriers. Two Admiral Kuznetsov-class carriers were ordered; the first, Kuznetsov itself, was completed and served with the Soviet Navy, and was later transferred to the Russian Navy where it serves to this day (despite many issues). The other ship, Riga, was only 68 percent completed when the USSR was dissolved in 1991.
The ship languished for years, until a Chinese businessman bought it in 1998 with the stated intention of turning it into a floating casino—though with the actual intention of delivering it to the People’s Liberation Army Navy. The PLAN studied the design of the ship, and then refurbished it to operational status. The ship was launched in 2012 as Liaoning, China’s first ever aircraft carrier.
The article on Tencent describes the problems propulsion engineers had with the unfinished ship. In March 2004 Chen Ming, the director of the Boiler Research Office, was sent to inspect Riga’s rusty hulk. “Chen Ming found that except for the main boiler of the military ship, the combustion system, control system, auxiliary machinery accessories, valves and meters were all missing.”
Riga was built to use supercharged boilers, but China had no prior experience with them. Engineers had to fabricate a new propulsion system and test it on land. By 2011 the new propulsion system had been installed on the ship, and it departed for sea trials.
Another picture of the carrier’s rear starboard quarter shows an unpainted steel hull with long streaks of rust, a legacy of the ship remaining ignored and unfinished in Ukraine for the better part of a decade. Liaoning’s refurbishment was a considerable technological feat, though we may never know the full details of its complete makeover.