The South China Morning Post has reported that China is expected to launch its first next-generation aircraft carrier within a year, and construction on a sister ship has been fast-tracked.
The first Type 002 aircraft carrier has started the final assembly process, two independent sources told the South China Morning Post. It will be the country’s third aircraft carrier, and the second to be domestically built (the first was purchased from the Ukraine in 1998).
“Assembly of the new aircraft carrier has begun and is expected to be completed in the first half of next year, because the Covid-19 pandemic slowed down progress,” one of two sources that spoke with the paper said. Both sources requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
“Workers are also starting the keel-laying for the new carrier’s sister ship. Both ships have been built by the Jiangnan Shipyard outside Shanghai.” Laying the keel is deemed the official start of construction on a new ship.
However, production of the component parts for the first two Type 002 aircraft carriers started in 2015 and 2018 respectively. It is anticipated that the second carrier could also be completed by next year.
“Construction for the second Type 002 will be faster than the first one because workers have learned and overcome a lot of problems building the first one,” the second source said. “It’s a challenging job because the Type 002 is our country’s first domestically designed aircraft carrier.”
Recent photos circulated on mainland China’s social media platforms showed two huge parts berthed in a dry dock and assembled from prefabricated vessel components. There were incomplete flight decks on the top of them. The images showed that much progress had been made compared with previous satellite images taken in April 2019 by the US think tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
#China steps up shipbuilding with two more #aircraftcarriers under construction. China aims to equal US naval strength in Pacific, its first domestically developed carrier. Type 002 vessels, advanced electromagnetic aircraft launch system allowing faster, more frequent take-off pic.twitter.com/ArfzRSyqFq
— NRao (@kamireddynrao) July 18, 2020
China's third and fourth aircraft carriers have begun their final assembly in Shanghai (photo from Weibo) pic.twitter.com/SAkXnFoDQR
— Morgan Artyukhina (@LavenderNRed) July 20, 2020
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank in Washington, DC, estimates the ships’ displacement to be roughly 80,000 tons each, with a 40-meter beam at the waterline. That’s nearly twice the displacement of China’s present carriers and comparable to the US Navy’s first supercarriers, but less than the most recent Nimitz-class and Ford-class carriers which have a displacement of 100,000 tons. LINK
The first two Russian-designed Type 001 aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and Shandong, were built with ‘ski-jump’ ramps for launching aircraft. The Type 002 carriers will be equipped with an electromagnetic aircraft launch system, similar to that used by the US Navy’s new-generation Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier.
The electromagnetic take-off technology means less wear and tear on the aircraft, allows more planes to be launched in a shorter time, and also enables the aircraft to carry more fuel and weapons.
Hong Kong-based military commentator Liang Guoliang said the Type 002 was not expected to be nuclear-powered because so far only Chinese submarines had used the technology and none of its surface warships were nuclear-powered.
“The nuclear-powered technology is designed for China’s fifth aircraft carrier, which is likely to be built in the Dalian Shipbuilding yard,” Liang said, referring to the manufacturer that built the Shandong ship.
China plans to build at least six aircraft battle groups by 2035, with the objective of matching US naval strength in the Pacific region. According to the strategy, China will have three fleets to patrol the Yellow Sea, East Sea and South China Sea respectively, with each fleet having two aircraft carriers. LINK
Liang said he expected that a new stealth carrier-based fighter jet designed for the Type 002 would make its debut when the first advanced warship was ready to be launched next year. Two candidates have been identified, the FC-31 or the J-20 stealth fighters. LINK1, LINK2
However, Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang think tank, a Beijing-based military science and technology institute, said the Type 002 carrier would continue to carry the J-15 ship-borne fighter jet, which is currently deployed on the Liaoning and Shandong.
The J-20 is made by the Chengdu Aerospace Corporation. The FC-31 was independently developed by Chengdu Aerospace Corporation’s sister company Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC), which also produced the J-15 – the jets currently in use.
Both aerospace firms are subsidiaries of the state-owned giant Aviation Industry Corporation of China, which specialises in designing and developing military aircraft, and were set up to provide benign competition between manufacturers.
Ground-based J-20s – also known as Powerful Dragons – entered service with the PLA Air Force in 2017. Mass production of the stealth fighters began late last year as China stepped up its efforts to counter the deployment of American F-22s and F-35s in the Asia-Pacific region.
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