Over the past ten years, China has been striving to build significant naval aviation capabilities. After reconditioning, under the name of CNS Liaoning, the old aircraft carrier Varyag, acquired from Ukraine for 20 million euros in 2000, he built CNS Shandong, which participated in the recent siege maneuver against Taiwan with its air group.
As a reminder, these two aircraft carriers are in STOBAR [Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery] configuration, meaning their flight deck is equipped with a springboard to launch their J-15 “Flying Shark” fighters and arresting cables to recover them. And this limits air operations. For example, they cannot be equipped with aerial surveillance aircraft since this function is performed by helicopters.
In June 2022, the Jiangnan shipyard launched the CNS Fujian, an aircraft carrier in a CATOBAR [Catapult Assisted Take-Off But] configuration, that is, equipped with catapults [a priori electromagnetic] and arresting lines. This ship, with electric propulsion, belongs to the Type 003 class.
At the same time, China has begun the development of new aircraft that can operate from such an aircraft carrier, including a naval version of the FC-31 “Gyrfalcon” [designated J-35], a 5th-generation aircraft. It has recently been suggested that the J-15 will be modified so that it can be “catapulted” from CNS Fujian. Finally, the KJ-600, an aerial surveillance aircraft similar to the US Hawkeye, is undergoing flight tests.
But clearly, Beijing has no intention of stopping there. Recently, the Jiangnan shipyard has released images suggesting the possibility of building a new aircraft carrier type 004.
And this one, with its island at the rear, looks inspired by the USS Gerald Ford, which is about to make its first long-duration operational deployment. And above all, the new generation French aircraft carrier [PANG] [photo below]. So much so that it could almost be confused…
However, the CSSC [China State Shipbuilding Corporation] subsidiary has not specified this future ship’s characteristics. She will likely be nuclear-powered, allowing China to join the United States and France, which are currently the only countries capable of building such vessels.
But if you look at the pictures, you can see that the number 20 is inscribed on his helmet. And this is an important detail, as CNS Liaoning, CNS Shandong, and CNS Fujian wear the numbers 16, 17, and 18, respectively. So it suggests that a second Type 003 carrier is being considered…and that Type 004 is a more distant prospect.