China is advancing the development of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and state-of-the-art ship-based aircraft, intending to compete with the United States Navy.
Aircraft Carriers Liaoning and Varyag: History and Evolution
Eleven years ago, China acquired its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning (16 hulls), formerly the Varyag, purchased from Ukraine for 20 million euros in 2000. Later, it built the Shandong (17), which participated in maneuvers in Taiwan with its air group.
Both aircraft carriers are configured with the STOBAR (Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) system, which limits air operations and the use of early warning and air control aircraft.
In June 2022, the Jiangnan shipyard launched the Fujian (18), a CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) type aircraft carrier equipped with electromagnetic catapults and integrated electric propulsion (IEP), belonging to the Type 003 class.
China and its new aircraft on board
China is developing carrier aircraft that can operate exclusively on CATOBAR aircraft carriers, such as the naval version of the Shenyang FC-31 Gyrfalcon, a 5th-generation aircraft. The J-15 is expected to be modified to be launched from Fujian.
The Xi’an KJ-600, an early warning and air control aircraft similar to the US Hawkeye, is already undergoing flight tests.
Future of Chinese Aircraf5th-generation aircraftt Carriers: Type 004
The Chinese Navy, also known as the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), is in the process of developing a new class of aircraft carrier, designated Type 004. The Type 004 is anticipated to be a significant improvement over its predecessors in terms of the capabilities of China’s naval aviation and will feature a number of innovations.
The new carrier The Type 004 is anticipated to be larger than China’s first and second aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong. The Type 004 is anticipated to weigh approximately 85,000 tons, making it considerably larger than the Liaoning and Shandong, which weigh approximately 60,000 tons each.
The Type 004 is anticipated to be equipped with an electromagnetic launch system (EMALS) rather than the ski-jump launch system used by China’s other aircraft carriers. EMALS utilizes a linear motor to launch aircraft, which is anticipated to be more dependable and effective than the ski-jump system. It will also permit the carrier to launch heavier and more aircraft.
In addition to the EMALS system, the Type 004 is expected to have an advanced aircraft recovery system that utilizes arresting wires to recover aircraft that have successfully landed on the carrier. This system will be an upgrade over the current “ski-jump” system used by China’s other carriers, which restricts aircraft size and weight.
The Type 004 is anticipated to have a substantial air wing comprising as many as 90 aircraft. This could include the J-15 fighter, which is presently used on other Chinese aircraft carriers, and the J-31 stealth fighter, which is currently under development. Airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft, helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) may also be carried by the carrier.
Anti-aircraft missiles, anti-ship missiles, and close-in weapon systems (CIWS) are anticipated to be included in the Type 004’s offensive and defensive weaponry arsenal. It may also be equipped with electronic warfare systems to interfere with hostile radar and communications.
Overall, Type 004 represents a substantial improvement in the naval aviation capabilities of China. Its larger size, sophisticated launch and recovery systems, and air wing will make it a formidable opponent to the United States carrier fleet in the Pacific. However, the carrier is still undergoing development, and it is unknown when it will be completed and available for PLAN service.
Digital images released by the Jiangnan shipyard show future Chinese aircraft carriers, suggesting the possibility of building a new aircraft carrier, probably Type 004.
This future ship would have a layout similar to the aircraft carriers of the US Navy and the French Porte Avion Nouvelle Generation (PANG). It is estimated that she could displace about 110,000 tons and have nuclear propulsion.
Next steps in Chinese shipbuilding
The images show the number 20 on the hull and forward deck, indicating the construction of a Type 003 twin and that the commissioning of the future Type 004 ship would take a few more years.
China’s frenetic shipbuilding activity demonstrates its ability and ambition in the realm of military technology and competition with the United States.