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Canada defence ministry watchful of new Chinese aircraft carrier

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Last summer, I spent some time aboard the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, as it patrolled a stretch of the Indian Ocean.

It was a cool assignment, and valuable research for a story about a story about a 21st-century Great Game. Standing on the flight deck, watching fighter jets take off and land in unison, was a testament to technology. The collected knowledge that has allowed the U.S. to assert its place as a dominant sea power was paid for in blood, I was reminded. With each accident, came knowledge.

I saw that several times, as sailors dropped to their hands and knees through the day to search every inch of the flight deck for items as small as a pen cap or paper clip that could be sucked into a jet engine and destroy it.

In November, the Chinese state media reported that two aircraft practiced taking off and landing from the deck of China's first carrier, the Liaoning. The following month, on Dec. 17, 2012, Canada's minister of National Defence was given a briefing about the flight, showing that even though Canada doesn't have its own carrier any more, it's still concerned about who controls the sea's shipping lanes. (Canada's last carrier, HMCS Bonaventure, was decommissioned in 1970.) (Thanks to readers who notified me of this fact.)

Some sections of the unclassified Canadian briefing note was blocked out by censors, including one tantalizing section that begins: "While these drills were the next step in the (Chinese navy's) steady movement towards this capability, there is the possibility that..." The rest of the paragraph is redacted.

The note, obtained by The Star through the Access to Information Act, quotes Richard Bitzinger, senior fellow of the Military Transformations Program at Singapore's Rajaratnam School of International Studies. Bitzinger says it will be two or three years before China has a credible carrier air wing capability. The main issue will be training pilots and deck crews.

"Dr. Bitzkinger questioned the number of aircraft the Liaoning could hold, given that the ship will also need to deply both airborne early warning & control and search and rescue helicopters. Deck space and layout will be at a premium, since the J-15 (fight jet) will need to run about half the length of the warship at full afterburner for a ramp assisted launch. This would make it challenging, if not impossible, to conduct the simultaneous launch and recovery of aircraft."

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead



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Canada's last carrier, HMCS Bonaventure, retired in 1970. It was commissioned in 1957.

Canada's last aircraft carrier, The Bonaventure, retired in 1970.

Canada's last aircraft carrier was not HMCS Magnificent, it was HMCS Bonaventure which was retired in 1970.

Check your facts, Canada's last carrier, HMCS Bonaventure, was decommissioned in 1970, not 1957.

Sorry, Rick, but Canada's last aircraft carrier, HMCS Bonaventure, was retired in 1970. (That's still a long time ago.)

Canada's last aircraft carrier, HMCS Bonaventure, saw service from 1957 and 1970.

HMCS Bonaventure was "payed off" in 1970.

The last aircraft carrier to serve in the Royal Canadian Navy was HMCS Bonaventure (CVL 22) and she retired in 1970, not 1957 as the article states.

Canada's last carrier HMCS Banaventure was retired in 1970.

HMCS Bonaventure was the last RCN carrier, being retired in 1970. Like Maggie, Bonnie was a Majestic class boat, but served for longer and even launched our Banshee aircraft.

You are incorrect as to when the HMCS Bonaventure was retired. It was in 1970 and we aquited it in 1957

Canada's last aircraft carrier was the Bonaventure, and it was decommissioned in 1970, not 1957 as stated in the article. However, it was commissioned in 1957, after several years of refitting to include modern technologies like an angled deck to allow simultaneous landings and takeoffs. http://www.readyayeready.com/ships/shipview.php?id=1041

The Bonaventure, Canada's last aircraft carrier was paid out in 1970, NOT in 1957 as is suggested in the article.

You have GOT to be kidding me. When will the Star learn to THINK before broadcasting US military propaganda?

The US, not China, has just started a NEW NAVAL ARMS RACE, with stuff like free electron lasers and rail guns to deploy across entirely new naval platforms, and now's the time to SMEAR China for one tired old reject from the Russian/Ukrainian navy?

Test question: when is the last time Canada or America asked for an arms treaty ANYWHERE, before escalating the arms race? Before the US built the ONLY stealth fighter in the world, did it run around asking other nations to agree not to start building them? Nope. The Canadian military has become the bum boy of its US counterparts, and it's the rest of us who are feeling the pain.

1957??? The Magnificent??? Small errors like that call into question the story, all the work by the author of the story and lots else.

Why Canada needs to worry about a Chinese carrier? The sea lanes are to be shared, not to be controlled by a country...say USA.

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