Why Does China Need More Aircraft Carriers?

As China has increased its capital investment in the Navy in recent years, there is a word on display: ” Dumpling,” which refers to the speed of launching the self-developed heavyweight ships into the water.

After commissioning Liaoning and Shandong Aircraft carriers, China has already begun to develop the next nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and it’s being developed fast. It clearly shows China requires more aircraft carriers than ever.

Why Does China Need More Aircraft Carriers?

Why Does China Need More Aircraft Carriers?
Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong.


Six aircraft carriers might be enough for the Chinese Navy. China’s current reach extends mainly to the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific, with two aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean sufficing.

In the Western Pacific, the Chinese Navy must deal with military pressure from the US, which necessitates the deployment of at least four aircraft carriers. It’s worth noting that the Liaoning ship isn’t among the six aircraft carriers because it’s a training ship that won’t be doing any combat operations.

Of course, the six aircraft carriers are only the foundation. China’s maritime interests will increasingly grow as the Belt and Road project progresses, and the six aircraft carriers will be stretched to their limits.

The Belt and Road initiative is utilizing the United States’ hegemonic position. After all, the US’ strength is mainly dependent on an offshore balancing strategy, and as the world becomes more integrated, the US’ national strength advantage will dwindle.

Demand for conventional and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in China

Why Does China Need More Aircraft Carriers?

As for how much China’s conventional-powered aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers need, it depends on the scope of China’s Navy’s activities in the future.  Judging from the current scope of activities of the Chinese Navy, it is enough for China to have two conventionally powered aircraft carriers

These two conventionally powered aircraft carriers operate primarily in the Indian Ocean, close to China’s mainland. Conventionally powered aircraft carriers have a high attendance efficiency, making them appropriate for offshore cruise and combat missions.

The remaining aircraft carriers, in addition to these two conventionally powered aircraft carriers, can all be nuclear-powered. When fuelled with nuclear fuel, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier has the benefit of a long journey and the ability to circle the globe numerous times.

Compared with nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, conventional-powered aircraft carriers have a much shorter range. The range with full fuel is approx 8,000 kilometers.

Its combat radius is only more than 4,000 to 5,000 kilometers, Counting back and forth. In addition, the aircraft carrier will not run in a straight line during combat, so the combat radius will be shorter.

As a result, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is the only method to construct an ocean-going navy, despite its long maintenance cycle and high operating costs.

Stepping out of the first island chain set up by the US and covering at least the western Pacific will be in line with China’s maritime defense expectations. To support this range, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers must be used.

China’s Offshore and Oceanic Power

As for the low attendance efficiency of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the question of how to maintain China’s offshore defense mainly depends on the offshore defense system China has built before and the islands and reefs in the South China Sea.

Relying on military forces such as the air force and anti-ship missiles stationed along the coast, China can establish a maritime defense system within 2,000 kilometers of the coast. In the South China Sea, China has developed islands in recent years. Airports and missile bases could be built on these islands in the future.

As a result, China now has adequate offshore power but lacks the oceanic naval capability. China has yet to construct a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier owing to the need to demonstrate the technology. China may continue to develop nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, beginning with the No. 4 aircraft carrier.