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China Will Soon Have the Ultimate Naval Weapon: Nuclear Powered Aircraft Carriers

When China does finally build nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, some analysts—such as Collin Koh—have suggested that its sailors will benefit from already operating nuclear-powered submarines. This will reduce the amount of time it needs to spend on training crews to operate the new carriers. That being said, there will be some growing pains.

A history with nuclear-powered submarines should also help Chinese shipbuilders in designing a nuclear-powered carrier. Once again, however, the process isn’t entirely straightforward As Li pointed out, “France has showed that it’s not simply a matter of installing more reactors. It has to be redesigned and China has to overcome all the difficulties on its own.” Paris has built one nuclear-powered carrier—the Charles de Gaulle—but the ship has been plagued with numerous problems both during and after development. As Kyle Mizokami has noted, “Charles de Gaulle’s development was a long and painful process. Construction came to a halt on numerous occasions…. The carrier ended up being delivered to the French Navy three years late, and only started sea trials in 1999—twelve years after construction began.” Because of these issues, Paris ultimately decided against building a second carrier, as initially planned.

Besides France, only the United States currently has nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

Zachary Keck (@ZacharyKeck) is a former managing editor of The National Interest.

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