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27 Oct, 2009 10:03

Russian carrier becomes “Made in China” vessel prototype?

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Russia should be very flattered indeed. That’s because China’s new aircraft carrier bears a striking resemblance to an old Russian model.

However, experts say the Chinese will still find it extremely difficult to build an aircraft carrier of their own.

“It is impossible to copy such a complex construction,” believes Andrey Frolov, Senior Research Fellow, Centre of Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

“One could copy the way it appears from the outside, but you need real knowledge to actually get it to work. It would be very difficult to make an identical aircraft carrier, so I don’t think this is a case of copying,” he noted.

This is not the first instance of the Chinese taking advantage of Russian military know-how.

Beijing has been making legitimate arms deals with Moscow for years, with the Chinese buying some $2 billion US dollars worth of Russian hardware in the last decade or so. But even these have been hit by scandal, with China last year being accused of copying the Russian SU-27 jet fighter.

Russia’s Varyag is outdated – China

Despite the accusations of hardware piracy in the past, Chinese analysts believe that there will be no need to copy Russian designs in this instance.

“Media hype says China is copying a Russian aircraft carrier. I have to say again, we need to gain experience from others in military technology, but we never copy any specific thing from any country,” that’s the assessment of Ji Zhiye, Vice President, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

“I have seen the Varyag, and actually it is only used as a tourist attraction. Its technology is old-fashioned and it is not advanced enough for our modern navy.”

Despite claims that they don’t need the help of Russian technology to build their aircraft carrier, the Chinese look like they are taking advantage of their purchase of the Varyag, with reports saying that they have already built a full-scale model of the ship’s deck near the city of Wuhan, in the centre of the country.

So while China continues to rely on Russian military know-how, to get its own aircraft carrier designs off the drawing board, it’s unclear how much use the Chinese will actually be able to make of the Varyag, and whether there is the political will in Beijing to actually go through with such a costly project.