- Chinese state media has confirmed for the first time that China has a third aircraft carrier in the works.
- China has one operational carrier and another undergoing sea trials. The second, China’s first-domestically developed carrier, is expected to be commissioned into the Chinese navy next year.
- Observers suspect that the “new-generation carrier” currently under construction may be a huge step foward for China, but Chinese media is keeping quiet on the details.
A third Chinese aircraft carrier is in development at a domestic shipyard, Chinese state media revealed Sunday, confirming for the first time long-held suspicions.
The state-run Xinhua News Agency explained that while the country’s first domestically-produced carrier — the Type 001A — is going through sea trials, an unnamed “new-generation carrier” is being built and is on schedule, the government-controlled China Daily reported Monday.
China’s first aircraft carrier — the Type 001 Liaoning — is a Soviet “heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser” that China acquired in the late 1990s, upgraded and refitted over roughly a decade, and commissioned into the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in 2012.
The flagship of the Chinese navy was declared combat ready in 2016. It has since sailed around Taiwan, through the disputed East and South China Seas, and into the Western Pacific.
The Liaoning, primarily a training vessel as China attempts to better understand complex carrier operations, also served as a template for China’s second carrier.
While the Type 001A is improved in certain places, it is decidedly similar to its Soviet predecessor. The vessel does, however, feature a new radar, a slightly larger flight deck, and a smaller island. The ship also includes a number of technological upgrades.
The carrier has undergone at least two sea trials, possibly a third. Observers expect the carrier to be commissioned into the PLAN in October 2019 for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
There is speculation among expert observers that China’s newest aircraft carrier, which some refer to as the Type 002, will be a marked improvement over the Type 001 and Type 001A.
While the first two use ski jump-assisted short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) launch systems, which are less effective, the new carrier may be a ship with a flat flight deck and a catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) launch system, as this is certainly something China aims to eventually achieve.
The development of a carrier with a CATOBAR launch system would be a significant step forward for the Chinese navy, as it would improve the operational effectiveness of the ship. Leaked images from the company tasked with building China’s carriers suggested that this may be where China is heading.
An advanced fleet of aircraft carriers supported by new Type 055 Renhai destroyers and other upgraded escort ships would greatly improve China’s ability to project power in its neighborhood.