September 4, 2013:
Eight years ago a Chinese entertainment company built a concrete replica of a U.S. Nimitz class aircraft carrier. The vessel can still be seen via Google Earth (31.10,121.01), outside of Shanghai, at the Military Education Center of the 380 hectare (950 acre) "Orient Green Boat After-School Camp for Youngsters." A bus ticket to the carrier, from Shanghai, costs about eight bucks. Just in case you are in the area. The carrier is not to scale, it appears to be about ¾ scale and has replicas of Chinese warplanes on the "flight deck." The "carrier" is actually a steel frame concrete building constructed in the shape of a carrier. Inside are meeting rooms and areas for the display of more military themed material.
What is this all about? Quite simply, since the 1990s the Chinese have gone nuts over theme parks. There are now over 2,000 of them, most recently constructed, like "Orient Green Boat After-School Camp for Youngsters." But from outer space it looks like someone has built an aircraft carrier and set it in a small lake. Well, that might keep any potential invaders-from-outer-space at a safe distance.
Most of these new theme parks are now bankrupt. The one with the concrete Nimitz was popular for a few years but is now mostly empty and few vendors are left. What really killed the faux Nimitz was another park that opened two years ago, some 200 kilometers away on the coast. This Binhai Aircraft Carrier Park featured a real aircraft carrier, from which real helicopters took off and gave aerial tours of the area. The captive carrier is one of the four Russian Kiev class carriers that were retired in the 1990s and sold. Two were scrapped but one was rebuilt for India as the Vikramaditya. The other became a tourist attraction at Binhai, having been rebuilt as a floating hotel. There’s another carrier that can only be seen from on high. This one is at a military base and is in the shape of the flight deck of China’s new carrier (the Liaoning). This one is not for entertainment but to train carrier pilots.
While the Kievs were basically large (45,000 ton) cruisers armed with hundreds of anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, they also had a flight deck for vertical take-off (V/STOL) jets and helicopters. India converted the Gorshkov, which was the fourth Kiev class "cruiser-carrier". The first one entered service in 1975, and the last one in 1987. Based on the experience with the Kievs, Russia decided to build the larger Kuznetsovs.
China eventually bought one of the two Kuznetsov class carriers and rebuilt it as the Liaoning. Russia began building the Kuznetsovs in the 1980s. Originally they were to be 90,000 ton nuclear powered ships, similar to American carriers (complete with steam catapults). Instead, because of the high cost and the complexity of modern (American style) carriers, the Russians were forced to scale back their plans and ended up with 65,000 ton (full load) ships that lacked steam catapults and used a ski jump type flight deck instead. Nuclear power was dropped but the Kuznetsovs were still a formidable design, and Russia still operates the original Kuznetsovs, while China is using its own modified Kuznetsovs (as the Liaoning).