Robert Farley brings to my attention the news that the People’s Liberation Army Navy has reached an agreement with the government of Brazil to begin training PLAN pilots on board the Sao Paulo. This is big news. Difficult and expensive as it is to build and aircraft carrier, and the planes to fly on it, and the ships to protect it, it’s probably even more difficult to get personnel who are trained in the art of naval aviation:
Aircraft carriers represent a huge investment of time and effort. Apart from the carrier itself and the aircraft, a navy needs to assemble a battlegroup capable of protecting the carrier, and needs to master fixed wing big deck carrier operations. This last is exceptionally complicated, and its difficulty is not to be underestimated. Operating a modern aircraft carrier requires a high level of professionalism and expertise on the part of the pilots, the aircrew, and the ship’s regular complement. For example, taking off from and landing on a carrier is much more complicated than similar operations on land. Pilots also have to master a set of navigational skills that will guarantee they can find their carrier under adverse conditions. The maintenance requirements for aircraft at sea are much greater than for aircraft on land, because of the corrosive effect of seawater. Coordinating an air group at sea is difficult, and coordinating take offs and landings such that sorties can be maximized is very difficult indeed. We know all this because it took the United States quite some time to master jet aircraft operations on big deck carriers. Until the Chinese master such operations, they’re looking forward to large numbers of accidents and carriers of limited effectiveness.
The easiest way to get the job done is to get help. A handful of people training alongside a large group that already knows what it’s doing is a lot more practical than trying to train everyone up simultaneously from scratch. Right now, only Russia, the United States, France, and Brazil operate carriers that carry conventional aircraft so learning from Brazil will be very useful for the Chinese. And the Chinese have the economic clout to be useful to Brazil in a variety of ways.