China bought almost completed aircraft-carrying cruiser Varyag from Ukraine in 1998. Due to lack of funds for appropriate outfitting, Ukraine had to sell the ship at the price of metal scrap. The contract cost was only $20 mln. The Project 11436 ship was laid down in Aug 1985 and launched in Nov 1988; outfitting works were suspended in 1992. Project 11436 was a logical continuation of earlier built Soviet carrier Admiral Kuznetsov (Project 11435). Aircraft carrier Ulyanovsk (Project 11437) was supposed to become the next upgrade equipped with steam catapults and nuclear powerplant. At the time of the sale, Varyag was 67% completed. Towage from Nikolayev to China took almost 2 years (627 days). Being outfitted in China, the carrier obtained the name of Shi Lang in honor of famous Chinese military leader.
Displacement of the ship is almost 60,000 tons. Her length exceeds 300 meters, and full speed is 29 knots. Fuel range is about 8,000 nautical miles. Apart from automatic gun mounts AK-630M, the ship's Russian analog Admiral Kuznetsov is armed with 12 launchers of Granit antiship missiles posing a considerable threat to enemy ships. However, the Chinese have not such armament at hand, so Shi Lang would be unlikely equipped with antiship missile systems.
It is noteworthy that the China's first aircraft carrier will be commanded by Li Xiaoyan who had graduated from the Kuznetsov Naval Academy (Russia). His graduation work was carrier groups.
As was reported in Dec 2011, the carrier started second phase of sea trials. The ship took the sea for 12 days and then returned to homeport Dalian. Interaction with prospective Chinese deck-based fighter J-15 was conducted during those trials, although deck landing tests were not held. Except for airplanes, intelligence sources reported about helicopters on board the Chinese aircraft carrier.
First phase of sea trials was performed in Aug 2011 and took only 5 days. Experts of shipbuilding companies tested and adjusted equipment on service.
So far, it has not been reported whether the carrier is equipped with arresters. This system provides the deck landing capability. Currently, Chinese industry has not technology to produce such equipment. That is why, China planned to purchase 4 arresters from Russia. However, that contract was banned. Russian party referred to strategic kind of the equipment. Taking off the carrier deck is relatively simple, since the ship is equipped with bow ski-ramp and aircraft take off by own engine thrust. But deck landing on the moving carrier is much more complicated task.
Air wing is supposed to consist of Chinese-produced fighters J-15. Initially, the Chinese declared the airplane would be designed under stealth technology, but upon a closer view it turned out to be nothing more than amateurishly copied Russian fighter Su-33. Its prototype – experimental airplane T-10K – was bought along with the carrier from Ukraine either in 2001 or 2005 and had passed "reverse engineering".
Reportedly, China will use the retrofitted ship as a trial platform for new technologies and training of naval pilots. Chinese officials voiced plans to build several aircraft carriers as development of the given project. According to plans, China would have full-fledged aircraft-carrying fleet no later than 2020.