China’s Third Aircraft Carrier: A Testament to Technological Advancement

Aircraft Carrier

Chinese developers are testing electromagnetic catapults on China’s third aircraft carrier, the Fujian, which is named after the Chinese province closest to Taiwan. The carrier features a more advanced Catapult Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) system than the first two carriers, Liaoning and Shandong. The CATOBAR system will help launch a larger variety of aircraft faster and with more ammunition. A video clip shared on China’s Weibo microblogging website shows a test vehicle being dropped from a catapult position on the Fujian aircraft carrier into the water.

The Chinese aircraft carrier successfully passed a test at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, as confirmed by a satellite image from November 26. The 80,000-ton Fujian is China’s third aircraft carrier, built with a fully indigenous design, and the first People’s Liberation Army (PLA) carrier equipped with electromagnetic catapults and arresting devices similar to those on U.S. aircraft carriers.

China is developing a CATOBAR carrier, carrying electromagnetic catapults (EMALS), a new technology that is not yet operational. The carrier, which is larger than any other carrier in the world other than the US supercarriers, is undergoing mooring trials at the shipyard before being put on sea trials. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) reports that China’s carrier fleet may be expanded to five ships in the next 10 years.

The PLA developed its first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, from a Soviet-built ship in 2012. The second carrier, Shandong, was commissioned seven years later. The construction of the Fujian aircraft carrier began in the 2010s and was launched in June 2022. Despite its impressive size, China is still significantly behind in several areas. The US Navy has 11 aircraft carriers, most of them of the large “supercarrier” category, which are more advanced and powerful. Fujian is only about 80% as large as existing US carriers and is conventionally propelled rather than nuclear, which makes a difference for range, endurance, and carrying capacity.

The Chinese Navy’s Fujian, a new class of ship, is expected to be fully operational after sea trials, which can take up to a year. The ship’s predecessor, Shandong, took 19 months from completion to commissioning, a less advanced design. After sea trials, the PLA Navy will begin carrier group training, which will require detailed procedures for launch and landing. The PLA has historically been careful with training for carrier operations, and the Fujian may be commissioned by 2025. However, training up to U.S. standards will take years, if not decades. The PLA has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of over 370 ships and submarines.

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