China Now Has 3 Aircraft Carriers (That's a Really Big Deal)

China Aircraft Carrier
April 30, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: ChinaAircraft CarrierMilitaryDefensePLANU.S. NavyNavy

China Now Has 3 Aircraft Carriers (That's a Really Big Deal)

The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is advancing its naval capabilities with the addition of its third aircraft carrier, the Type 003 Fujian, slated for sea trials soon and expected service entry by 2026.

 

Summary: The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is advancing its naval capabilities with the addition of its third aircraft carrier, the Type 003 Fujian, slated for sea trials soon and expected service entry by 2026.

-This carrier, named after the Fujian province opposite Taiwan, represents a significant technological leap for China, being one of the largest military vessels at 80,000 tonnes and conventionally powered.

 

-Distinguished by its use of an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), the Fujian will likely host 60 to 70 aircraft including variants of the Shenyang J-15B and the new J-35, along with the Xi'an KJ-600 AEWC. This move positions the PLAN closer to achieving its goal of becoming the world's second-largest blue-water navy with a planned fleet of six carriers by 2023, underscoring China's growing naval prowess and strategic ambitions.

The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is one step closer to becoming the second largest aircraft carrier force in the world after the United States, as its third flattop – and second to be fully domestically produced – is preparing to leave port for its first sea trials. This will be a major milestone both for the PLAN and the carrier, which was only launched in June 2022.

The sea trials are expected to last at least a year, and it could enter service by the end of 2025 or early 2026.

The aircraft carrier, named after the Fujian province located directly opposite Taiwan, has been seen as a symbol of national pride for China. Although conventionally powered, at 80,000 tonnes, it is among the largest military vessels in service today after the U.S. Navy's Nimitz-class and Gerald R. Ford-class nuclear-powered supercarriers.

The PLAN's Fujian will likely operate with an airwing of 60 to 70 fighter aircraft; while it has been equipped with an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) technology, previously exclusive to the Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers.

China's new aircraft carrier is expected to enter service by 2026, and its air wing will likely include a variant of the Shenyang J-15B Flying Shark, incorporating CATOBAR launch capability, and the Shenyang J-35  fighter jets, a carrier-based variant of the FC-31; as well as the Xi'an KJ-600 airborne early warning and control (AEWC) aircraft.

As previously reported by Harrison Kass for The National Interest, the FC-31/J-35 prototypes are believed to employ the RD-93 engines. China is also understood to be working on an improved engine, the WS-13E, which is expected to offer 22,000 pounds of thrust and the WS-13 could possibly replace the RD-93 on the FC-31.

Fleet of Aircraft Carriers for China 

As noted, the Fujian is the first domestically designed carrier, and the PLAN has set a goal to have six carriers in service by 2023, making it the world's second-largest blue-water navy after the United States.

China Aircraft Carrier

The Type 003 Fujian follows the PLAN's two in-service aircraft carriers, the Type 001 Liaoning, and the Type 002 Shandong. The first of those warships had been acquired from Ukraine following the dissolution of the Soviet Union as the incomplete Soviet Kuznetsov-class aircraft cruiser, the Varyag. The vessel was sold and originally was going to be turned into a floating hotel and casino, but was brought to China and completed as the PLAN's first carrier.

The Type 002 Shandong was built in China but it very closely followed the design of the Type 001.

Both the Liaoning and the Shandong are equipped for short takeoff but arrested recovery (STOBAR) operations, which involves launching fixed-wing aircraft with the aid of a "ski jump" on the bow while the aircraft are recovered with arrester wires.

The Type 003 Fujian is truly a great leap forward for the PLAN and China.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author: [email protected].

Image Credit: PLAN Screenshots.