China is to build 4 nuclear aircraft carriers in an attempt to catch up to the US Navy, according to experts cited by the SCMP.
Beijing is presumably expected to have 6 aircraft carrier battle groups by 2035, after modernization of the People Liberation Army’s (PLA) Navy was turned into a priority.
They would be 6, because currently China has 1 with the Liaoning aircraft carrier and another one the Type 001A undergoing sea tests.
In comparison the US has 11 aircraft carrier battle groups.
Similarly to the US, the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are expected to be equipped with electromagnetic launch catapults.
“All of China’s new carriers were expected to be equipped with electromagnetic catapults similar to those used by the United States, the experts said. The US’ electromagnetic aircraft launch system, known as EMALS, can launch more aircraft more rapidly than the older diesel systems,” SCMP reported.
The SCMP cited several Chinese military experts, some with close ties to the PLA. This followed the announcement of the PLA’s plan in January to transform the army into a modern force, by shifting its focus away from land-based fighting. It plans to boost its navy, air force and new strategic units focused on emerging hi-tech threats such as cyberwarfare.
According to Wang Yunfei, a naval expert and retired PLA destroyer naval officer, said: “China’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers with [EMALS-like systems] are expected to join the navy by 2035, bringing the total number of carriers to at least six – although only four will work at the front line. The country needs to keep developing until it is at the same level as the United States.”
Construction of the first carrier equipped with such an electromagnetic launcher is the Type 002, a diesel-powered aircraft carrier whose construction began in 2018.
He said that there would no budget cuts even in the face of an economic slowdown and the trade war with the US.
“Even if the economic downturn has an effect, we can adjust proportions in total military expenditure to make sure naval modernisation keeps going,” Wang said. “For example, we can cut the number of new tanks.
“The budget for military modernisation will not be cut, even if [Beijing] decided to [use force to] reunify Taiwan. In a war scenario, [Beijing] may reduce spending on things like infrastructure, but it would increase military expenditure.”
Another cited expert was Song Zhongping, a television military commentator in Hong Kong. According to him China’s fleet of aircraft carriers would “expand to reflect its global standing.”
“The Type 002 – a conventionally powered carrier with an EMALS-like system – may become the only one of that kind of aircraft carrier, because China will next build multiple nuclear-powered aircraft battle platforms,” Song said.
Despite that, Song said China’s overall strength would remain limited by a lack of combat experience.
“China’s aircraft carrier technology and its carrier-based fighter jets will be developed to match the same generation of their American counterparts, but hardware build-up is only part of the picture,” he said.
“The standard of warships’ crew training and damage control have remained key shortcomings of the PLA Navy, because they has not had as much real combat experience as the Americans.”
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