- A number of photos of the third Chinese aircraft carrier leaked online last week.
- The photos appear to show a ship that is very different from the first two Chinese carriers.
- “This is not an American carrier, as it is today, but it is still a huge step for China,” said the expert.
- See more stories on the Insider business page.
The third aircraft carrier in China, which is expected to be the first modern flat panel in the country, is starting to take shape at the Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai, new images seem to be showing, which are constantly leaking online.
Prior to 2012, China did not have any aircraft carriers, but over the years it has managed to develop a moderate capacity of the carrier.
The Navy of the People’s Liberation Army of China has two aircraft carriers – Liaoning and Shandong.
The country built the first of the reconstructed hull of an old Soviet ship. The second, the first aircraft carrier made in China, is a larger, slightly improved copy of the Liaoning.
– @ Rupprecht_A (@RupprechtDeino) June 6, 2021
But recent images of the third Chinese carrier, collected by Chinese social media and posted on Twitter by Andreas Ruprecht, a Chinese military expert, hint at what has long been expected of this new ship – that it will likely be a step forward for the aircraft carrier program. On the side.
Thomas Sugarth, a senior assistant in the defense program at the Center for a New American Security, said the ship “is definitely starting to look like a real CATOBAR aircraft carrier.”
—Thomas Shugart (@ tshugart3) June 7, 2021
There are still a number of unknowns, but as more and more photos come out, they paint a clearer picture of how the construction of this new ship, a still-unnamed ship designated Type 003, is progressing.
– @ Rupprecht_A (@RupprechtDeino) June 9, 2021
There were even some close-up photos of the new aircraft carrier.
– @ Rupprecht_A (@RupprechtDeino) June 3, 2021
And some online observers have already begun trying to figure out what the carrier will look like based on the images of the structure, although some experts suggest it may still be a little too early to say for sure.
– Caiyun Xiangjiang (@louischeung_hk) June 10, 2021
This week, Matthew Funayole, a senior associate and expert on China at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reviewed satellite imagery of construction in Jiangnan.
“They have not put the island in place yet. They are still working on the cockpit. There is still a lot of work to be done,” he told Insider. But some things about the ship are beginning to become clear.
The ship is noticeably larger than the first two carriers, giving China the ability to place a larger and more diverse air wing, a necessary step as China works to build a modern fleet capable of projecting power offshore. you are.
He said that given the development of the third Chinese aircraft carrier, as well as China’s interests, there is reason to suspect that the country will have some kind of catapult system for launching aircraft carriers, but this has not been confirmed.
“They are still working on the front of the ship,” Funayole said.
“It is very likely that the ship has some type of catapult system,” he added. “We’re still trying to figure out what this is going to look like, but it’s hard to imagine that there is no catapult system.”
“It would not make sense, in terms of what China is striving to do with its carrier program, to have another ski-ramp-style carrier,” he said.
His assessment is usually in line with the findings of the Ministry of Defense in its annual report on China’s military might.
Construction of the 003 aircraft carrier began in 2018. The following year, the Ministry of Defense published an assessment of the project, saying that the ship “is likely to be” larger than Liaoning and Shandong “and is equipped with a catapult launch system. “
“This design will allow it to support additional fighters, early warning aircraft with fixed wings and faster flight operations,” the department’s report said.
The first two Chinese aircraft carriers used jump launch systems, assisted for short take-off but arrested (STOBAR), for launching aircraft. This design can be seen on other aircraft carriers, such as Russian Admiral Kuznetsov and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.
Ski jumps are significantly less effective than take-off, but arrest-recovery (CATOBAR) systems with steam or electromagnetic catapults, which American carriers use because they reduce the maximum take-off weight of carrier-based aircraft.
The design poses certain problems for the Chinese Shenyang J-15, the main Chinese-based fighter.
The aircraft, which is based on an incomplete prototype of the Russian Sukhoi Su-33 aircraft with air superiority, which China acquired from Ukraine and then redesigned, is one of the heaviest fighters there.
The J-15 is a capable multi-role fighter and can carry a decent amount of weapons and fuel.
The big problem is that the design of the current Chinese aircraft carriers means that it can take off with only a small part of the weapons and fuel it is designed to carry, which significantly reduces its range and overall combat capability.
Timothy Heath, a senior defense researcher at Rand Corp., told Insider earlier that “with a ski slope configuration, weight becomes your enemy and the J-15, like a heavy aircraft, begins to fall victim to its own design. “
“A modern carrier equipped with catapults will allow the benefits of the J-15 to take effect,” he said. The report, as well as some leaked images, suggest that China is already developing a CATOBAR variant of the J-15.
There are also indications that China may already be looking beyond the J-15 for its fighter jet. Some have suggested that the FC-31, a Chinese stealth fighter still under development, may be the next aircraft carrier.
This week, photos appeared on the Internet showing a mock-up of a FC-31 “cockpit” on a concrete carrier in Wuhan, China. The undated photos seem to offer some support for theories about the next steps for Chinese naval aviation.
– @ Rupprecht_A (@RupprechtDeino) June 8, 2021
“They are now in a place where they understand how to build aircraft carriers, but when I find out the naval aviation side is still an area where China still has some unknowns,” Funayole said, adding: “Probably they will explore all available options,” to find out which will work best. “
He said China seems to be making great strides forward in its carrier program. “It’s not an American carrier like it is today,” he said of China’s third aircraft carrier, “but it’s still a huge step for China. It’s impressive what they’ve been able to do in a short time.”
While it may take some time before the final design becomes clear, the new aircraft carrier looks “quite a significant improvement from where they are now,” Funayole said. “But the question here is what that actually means in practice,” he added.
“The biggest struggle for China will not be technology,” he said. “It will be the staff. And it’s not a hammer on the Chinese. They’re just new to it.”
China has the largest fleet, according to the Pentagon, and it is building new ships faster than any other country. But you are still learning what it means to have a navy with great power.
Although it will inevitably take time for China to develop the knowledge and experience of operators to accompany the expanding fleet of flat-topped vehicles, the country’s newest carrier suggests that the country is advancing as it seeks to build a combat force of world class by the middle of this century.
Last year, the Pentagon said in its most recent assessment of China’s military might that China’s third carrier was likely to be in service by 2024, with additional aircraft carriers to follow.