Key point: Beijing is rapidly building up its own navy. How soon will it take them to have as many carriers as America?
China may launch a larger, more high-tech third aircraft carrier as soon as the end of this year, a development further heightening concerns among Pentagon observers about China’s aggressive naval modernization activities and the sheer speed of Chinese shipbuilding.
The Chinese government-backed Global Times newspaper, citing a publication called Ordnance Industry Science Technology, states that photos taken in early September show that the “the general shape of the warship has taken form, with only the bulbous bow missing.”
China’s second carrier, its first indigenously-built carrier is modeled after its ski-jump-configured Ukrainian-built Liaoning.
Now, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is building a larger, flatter, more modern carrier platform with smooth, longer-range electromagnetic catapults similar to the U.S. Ford-class.
An electromagnetic catapult generates a fluid, smooth launch which is different from a steam-powered “shotgun” type take off. Also, an electromagnetic catapult extends an attack envelope well beyond what China’s existing ski jump launch makes possible.
The third carrier, identified as a Type 002 carrier, is reported to have a displacement of 80,000 tons, considerably larger than the 60,000-ton weight of China’s first two carriers.
The Chinese paper reports that it will be able to operate a carrier air wing of more than 40 fixed-wing fighters. While conventionally powered, as opposed to the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered carriers, the Type 002 will greatly expand China’s air attack range and power-projection capability on a truly global scale. The Global Times reports that the new carrier will be about 320 meters long, surpassing the Shandong's 305 meters.
The pace of Chinese carrier construction clearly seems to represent the country's ambition to emerge as the world's leading military power in the ng decades and embrace an expeditionary posture for international operations.
Land-launched fixed-wing aircraft can easily reach Taiwan and other possible Southeast Asian targets from mainland China, a threat circumstance compounded by more carrier options for China. Also, more carriers can greatly expand China's presence in the South China Sea, creating conditions wherein Naval aircraft would have fast, easy access to the area should combat erupt.
Interestingly, in a May 2020 Congressional Research Service Report, “China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities” it explains that fast-expanding Chinese Naval power may be a key reason why the U.S.Navy is now working on engineering greater numbers of unmanned vessels to conduct dispersed, or dis-aggregated missions less vulnerable to a massive frontal naval attack from China.
The Navy calls it a Distributed Maritime Operations concept intended to leverage long-range sensors and weapons, multi-domain networking, forward operating surveillance, and precision weaponry wherein small, mobile, multi-mission unmanned systems disembark from large “motherships” operating in a command and control capacity.
This not only allows larger manned vessels to remain at safer standoff distances but further enables armed attack, amphibious operations, and long-strike air support. Such a tactical approach, it seems, might easily be intended as a way to provide some strategic answers to the massive, growing international threat presented by the Chinese.
Kris Osborn is the new Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.