A FLOAT­ING COL­LEGE OF NAVAL EX­PER­TISE

Of­fi­cers aboard the na­tion’s first air­craft car­rier are pre­par­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of sailors for the PLA Navy. Zhang Zhi­hao re­ports from CNS

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - Con­tact the writer at zhangzhi­hao@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

CNS Liaon­ing, China’s first air­craft car­rier, is cur­rently serv­ing asatrain­ing ship for the next gen­er­a­tion of of­fi­cers who will serve on the coun­try’s air­craft car­ri­ers. The role is para­mount be­cause the de­fense min­istry con­firmed that con­struc­tion of a sec­ond car­rier had neared com­ple­tion on Oct 27, as per sched­ule.

Ac­cord­ing to the web­site of Peo­ple’s Daily, Cao Wei­dong, a naval expert and of­fi­cer in the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army, ex­pects to see the sec­ond car­rier fin­ished some­time in the next two years.

The train­ing tech­niques and per­son­nel on the Liaon­ing have been shrouded in mys­tery, un­til now.

Li Dongyou, the ship’s po­lit­i­cal com­mis­sar, said 42 se­nior of­fi­cers serve on the ves­sel as in­struc­tors, and most of them were mem­bers of the car­rier’s re­fit­ting team in 2009. “Now, they are the tech­ni­cal back­bones of their de­part­ments and role mod­els for young re­cruits,” he said.

PLANavy doc­u­ments show that each se­nior of­fi­cer has trained three or more squad lead­ers on av­er­age, ac­count­ing for 70 per­cent of the young of­fi­cers on­board.

Risk­ing lives for knowl­edge

These of­fi­cers were ei­ther se­lected based on their ex­per­tise or were vol­un­teers who “wanted to serve on a big­ger ship and be a part of his­tory”, said RuanWan­lin, 44, a first class petty of­fi­cer.

Although they have served in the navy for more than two decades and have com­bined ex­pe­ri­ence of more than 450 mis­sions, the of­fi­cers said trans­form­ing the Varyag, a for­mer Soviet Union bat­tle cruiser, into the CNS Liaon­ing was the big­gest chal­lenge they had ever faced.

Li­uDebo, 44, afirst­classpet­ty­of­fi­cer­with26 years ex­pe­ri­ence in boiler rooms, was stunned when­he­sawthe Soviet ves­sel for the first time. “It was a float­ing junk­yard,” he re­called.

Orig­i­nally laid down as a Kuznetsov-class car­rier named Riga for the Soviet navy in 1985, the ship was re­named Varyag in 1990. The USSR col­lapsed be­fore con­struc­tion could be com­pleted, so the hull was trans­ferred to Ukraine where it lay un­tended un­til it was bought by China in 1998.

In 2002, the ship ar­rived in Dalian, Liaon­ing prov­ince, where the hull, en­gine, and radar and elec­tron­ics sys­tems were fully up­graded.

In the win­ter of 2009, Liu boarded the Liaon­ing to re­pair its en­gine—“the heart of the car­rier” — but prob­lems soon arose. “There were no de­sign lay­outs, no mod­els and no ex­pe­ri­ence to rely on,” Liu said. “We had to start ev­ery­thing from scratch.”

CNSLiaon­ing has about 20 decks, con­tain­ing more than 3,600 rooms, served by about 10,000 kilo­me­ters of wires and pipes. When Liaon­ing. Liu and the team be­gan their sur­vey of the ves­sel, the in­te­rior had nei­ther ven­ti­la­tion nor lights, and the maze-like tun­nels were filled with bro­ken­pipesand­torn, rustymetal.

The teams went in with hel­mets, flash­lights, face­masks and mea­sur­ing equip­ment. “We climbed through ev­ery hatch, fol­lowed ev­ery pipe and drew­ev­ery de­tail by hand. We risked our lives so that one day the ship would sail again,” Liu said.

Sec­ond Class Petty Of­fi­cerWang Chun­hui and his team de­scended into the dark, pun­gent fuel tanks to mea­sure their di­men­sions. Each car­ried 30 min­utes of air in tanks, but most mem­bers could only en­dure 15 min­utes be­cause of ex­haus­tio­nand­fear of get­ting poi­soned.

The ex­cep­tion wasWang. The 38-year-old worked un­til his clothes were drenched in sweat and the alarm sounded on his res­pi­ra­tor. When his young crew asked him to rest, he told them: “I have more ex­pe­ri­ence than you guys; I have to do more.”

After a typ­i­cal work­ing day, the of­fi­cers of­ten hud­dled around a black­board in a meet­ing room un­til after mid­night to dis­cuss tech­ni­cal de­tails, de­spite the tem­per­a­ture of­ten dip­ping as low as -20 C. Hav­ing ac­cu­mu­lated thou­sands of pages of notes, some of the of­fi­cers have pub­lished op­er­a­tion man­u­als and train­ing pam­phlets.

On Sept 25, 2012, the ves­sel, now of­fi­cially called CNS Liaon­ing, was handed over to the navy.

“If we ever build a mu­seum to the Liaon­ing, I hope there will be a sec­tion where our bro­ken hard­hats and dirty gloves are ex­hib­ited so fu­ture gen­er­a­tions know the hard­ships we went through,” said Wang Wei, a 39-year-old sec­ond class petty of­fi­cer, who sur­veyed the ship’s elec­tri­cal sys­tem.

num­ber of se­nior of­fi­cers on CNS Their av­er­age age is 39, and their av­er­age length of ser­vice is 20 years.

Pass­ing the torch

There is a slo­gan on the Liaon­ing: “Car­rier duty is not a can­dle, but a torch. The veter­ans have to keep it burn­ing bright, and pass it to the next gen­er­a­tion.”

Cui Yux­iao, 37, a third class petty of­fi­cer re­spon­si­ble for the ship’s anti-air­craft mis­siles, re­quires his men to study their equip­ment ex­ten­sively, from cas­ing to cir­cuitry. “Love your weapons like your eyes. We must know the equip­ment in­side out to be ab­so­lutely con­fi­dent,” he said.

Most of the ves­sel’s new re­cruits are re­cent grad­u­ates of the na­tion’s naval acad­emy and have gone through rig­or­ous ex­ams, rang­ing from com­put­ing lessons to English skills, so “they know how to study and learn very fast”, saidXuBochao, a teach­ing ad­min­is­tra­tor from the en­gine unit.

Some lessons come when least ex­pected. One night, a sailor was doz­ing off in the bat­tle com­mand room, the ship’s op­er­a­tional nerve cen­ter, when the radar picked up an in­com­ing sig­nal.

Yi Guo, the sec­ond class petty of­fi­cer in charge that night, no­ticed the on­screen anom­aly and re­ported the tar­get’s de­tails to his su­pe­ri­ors. The tar­get turned out to be a drill de­signed to as­sess the crew’s alert­ness and readi­ness. The 39-year-old of­fi­cer urged the young sailor to “stay vig­i­lant, even dur­ing drills”.

Some of­fi­cers teach by ex­am­ple. WangWei has en­riched his life by read­ing widelyandhe en­cour­ages his sub­or­di­nates to do the same. “I keep a dic­tio­nary of id­ioms in my locker,” Wang said. “Peo­ple may be amused by that, but if I find a book use­ful, I read it.”

He also likes to use metaphors to con­vey a sense of duty and pur­pose to the young re­cruits. “We should be like sun­flow­ers — even if we are work­ing be­low decks, our hearts should be filled with sun­light,” he said.

Dur­ing a me­dia tour of the Liaon­ing, Li Zha, a 27-year-old deputy squad leader from the boiler team, opened a small hatch on one of the steam boil­ers to dis­play the pur­ple flames in­side. “This is the soul of the car­rier,” he said. “It’s al­somy ‘sun’. Isn’t it pretty?”

ap­prox­i­mate num­ber of decks on CNS Liaon­ing ap­prox­i­mate num­ber of rooms on CNS Liaon­ing, which are served by about 10,000 kilo­me­ters of wires and pipes

ZHANG ZHI­HAO/CHINA DAILY

Mem­bers of CNS Liaon­ing’s crew march along the dock­side in Qing­dao, Shan­dong prov­ince.

ZHANG KAI / FOR CHINA DAILY

A mem­ber of the ground crew di­rects the pi­lot of a J-15 jet fighter on the flight deck of CNS Liaon­ing.

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