China says it has begun work on a third aircraft carrier — a ‘new generation’ ship bigger and mightier than anything it has built before.
Speculation has been mounting for some time, but China’s state-run news service Xinhua has confirmed a third aircraft carrier — to a new design — is currently under construction.
China currently has two aircraft carriers, one an ex-Soviet Union vessel — Liaoning — which was purchased in the late 1990s under the guise of being converted into a floating casino. It was then refurbished as a fully operational warship.
Earlier this year, China launched its first ‘home grown’ aircraft carrier — a reverse-engineered and slightly improved version of Liaoning.
The new ship being built at China State Shipbuilding Corp’s Jiangnan Shipyard Group in Shanghai, however, is said to be a ‘new generation’ design, fully developed domestically.
The article, which is the first official confirmation of the vessel’s construction, offers no details as to its size or capabilities.
The Xinhua article was published on the Chinese state-run social media WeChat service to highlight the sixth anniversary of the first takeoff and landing by a Chinese fighter aircraft on Liaoning.
China’s second aircraft carrier (the first it has built itself) is currently undergoing testing before being accepted into service. It is yet to be given an official name, and is only known by its project designation — Type 001A.
Observers have dubbed the under-construction third ship Type 002. Military analysts, basing their speculation on an image accidentally revealed by the ship’s builders, believe the vessel will be large enough to do away with the distinctive ‘ski ramp’ which features on China’s first two carriers. This low tech device helps sling aircraft into the air.
However, Type 002 could benefit from China’s efforts to develop electromagnetic rail technology (as seen in the successful testing of a new rail gun earlier this year).
The new Chinese ship will likely have a large flat deck with electromagnetic catapults accelerating heavily-laden combat aircraft to takeoff speeds. A bigger deck would also allow bigger aircraft carrying heavier loads to land — something the old Liaoning has been experiencing difficulties with.
Such technology will potentially put the ship in a similar league to the United States’ newest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Ford, which is currently struggling to get its electromagnetic catapult and ‘arresting’ wire system up to a state of reliable operation.
It is not known if Type 002 will be nuclear powered or not.
Xinhua News Agency says the ship is being constructed ‘as per schedule’. The state-run China Daily says “it will be bigger and mightier than the Liaoning and the second carrier”.
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Liaoning, has been operating as a training carrier since being accepted into the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in 2012. In 2016, Chinese state media declared it is now regarded as a ‘combat ready’, fully operational vessel.
Considered the flagship of China’s ‘blue water’ navy, it has engaged in several high-profile military exercises in the South and East China Seas and around Taiwan.
It has been operating with an ever-growing fleet of modern support vessels — ranging from dedicated anti-aircraft and anti-submarine warships through to auxiliaries and tankers — in an effort to develop capabilities similar to those held by the United States, and to a lesser extent France and the UK.
The second carrier, Type 001A, has completed at least two ocean-going sea trials to test the quality of its construction and functionality of freshly designed components. It is expected to be accepted into the PLAN by October next year.