CCP building a fourth aircraft carrier

Via The National Interest:

The People’s Liberation Army Navy—more commonly known outside of China as the Chinese Navy—is modernizing at a breakneck pace. Chinese shipbuilders have built more than one hundred warships in the past decade, a build rate outstripping the mighty U.S. Navy. Most importantly, China now has two aircraft carriers—Liaoning and a second ship under sea trials—and a third and possibly fourth ship under construction. With such a massive force under construction it’s worth asking: where does PLA naval aviation go from here?

For most of its modern history China has been the target of aircraft carriers, not an owner of one. The Imperial Japanese Navy’s carriers conducted strikes on the Chinese mainland in support of ground campaigns in the 1930s, strikes that went a long way toward honing the service’s legendary naval aviation record. U.S. naval power protected nationalist Chinese forces at the end of the Chinese Civil War, and U.S. Navy carriers conducted airstrikes on Chinese “volunteers” during the Korean War. In 1996 during the Third Taiwan Crisis, the United States deployed a carrier battle group near Taiwan as a sign of support against Chinese military actions. It could be fairly said that aircraft carriers made a significant impression on China.

Today, China has two aircraft carriers: the ex-Soviet carrier Liaoning, and a second unnamed ship, Type 002, currently undergoing sea trials. Liaoning is expected to function strictly as a training carrier, establishing training, techniques, and procedures for Chinese sailors in one of the most dangerous aspects of naval warfare: naval aviation. Despite this, Liaoning’s three transits of the Taiwan Strait and visit to Hong Kong show the PLAN considers it perfectly capable of showing the flag.

The second ship, Type 002 (previously referred to as Type 001A) resembles Liaoning but with a handful of improvements, including an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar the carrier’s island and a larger flight deck. Experts believe Type 002 will carry slightly more fighters than her older sibling, up to thirty J-15 jets in all. Type 002 will be the first combat-capable carrier, although the lack of a catapult means its aircraft must sacrifice range and striking power in order to take off from the flight deck.

A third ship of yet another class is under construction at the Jiangnan Shipyard at Shanghai, with credible reports of a fourth ship of the same class under construction at Dalian. This new class, designated Type 003, is the first Chinese carrier constructed using a modern, modular construction method. The modules, known as “superlifts” each weigh hundreds of tons, are assembled on land and then hoisted onto the ship in drydock. Large American and British warships, including carriers such as the USS Gerald R. Ford and HMS Queen Elizabeth are assembled using the superlift method.

Although there are few hard details on Type 003, we do know some things. The new carrier will forgo the ski ramp method for CATOBAR, or Catapult-Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery. The use of catapults will allow the carrier to launch heavier aircraft with great fuel and weapons loads, making the carrier more effective as a power projection platform. China has reportedly conducted “thousands” of test launches of a new electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS). Not only does an EMALs launch system enable the launch of heavier combat jets, it can also launch propeller-driven aircraft similar to the U.S. Navy’s E-2D Hawkeye airborne early warning and control aircraft and the C-2 Greyhound cargo transport. The ability to tune EMALs power levels also makes it easier to launch smaller, lighter unmanned aerial vehicles from catapults.

We don’t currently know the size and displacement of the Type 003s, and likely won’t be able to even make an educated guess for another year. They will probably be incrementally larger than Type 002 with an incrementally larger air wing and overall combat capability, though one still falling short of American supercarriers. The new carriers are expected to be conventionally powered and fortunately, China’s EMALS system will not reportedly require nuclear power.

At the same time, Chinese designers are believed to be hard at work on a fourth class of carrier, Type 004. According to Popular Science, a leak by the shipbuilder claims the new class, “will displace between ninety thousand and one hundred thousand tons and have electromagnetically assisted launch system (EMALS) catapults for getting aircrafts off the deck. It’ll likely carry a large air wing of J-15 fighters, J-31 stealth fighters, KJ-600 airborne early warning and control aircraft, anti-submarine warfare helicopters, and stealth attack drones.” Such specifications will make them the equal of U.S. carriers, at least on paper.

Meanwhile, the PLAN is looking forward a next-generation carrier aircraft. The PLAN has twenty-four J-15 multirole fighters, with at least two aircraft lost and two damaged during accidents attributed to the J-15 itself. That’s not enough aircraft to equip two carriers, land-based training units and carriers currently under construction. A future aircraft could be a carrier-based version of the Chengdu J-20 or the J-31/FC-31, China’s two new fifth-generation fighters. An interim solution could be the so-called J-17, an improved J-15 roughly comparable to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the EA-18G Growler.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy carrier fleet is a rapidly growing force shaping up to be a powerful, flexible tool of statecraft and war. Beijing could realistically have four aircraft carriers by 2022—a remarkable feat of military construction. All of this lead to a number of unsolved questions. To what end is Beijing building this force? How many carriers will the PLAN ultimately build? Is China growing a carrier force meant to protect its interests or expand them? We simply don’t know—but we will certainly find out.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. 

Park it off Batmen’s Bay and watch the Canberra roaches scatter. That’s how fragile Aussie democracy is without ANZUS.

David Llewellyn-Smith
Latest posts by David Llewellyn-Smith (see all)


        • @Burbwatcher that’s all hype, there is no better way to project power than parking an aircraft carrier battle group off a nation’s coast and the if you believe the claims from the manufacturer’s of these missile systems then every single surface warship will be sunk which is implausible.

      • False.

        None of what you are about to read is true, it is all made up by a Chinese spy bot spreading lies and propaganda by an agent of the MMS. Just saving some people the effort of discrediting history and facts.

        The very REASON China decided to transition from non projection to a force projection was the US invasion of Libya. I am yet to hear from anyone as to why Libya was suddenly attacked over night having been a strong vassal state of the USA governed as always by an approved despot. Why ?

        The reason is that Libya was the Vanguard of the Chinese push into Africa and they were modernizing the country in exchange for access and of course OIL.

        The US obtained a strict no fly zone enforcement (used to deny Libyan airforce access to the air) and then in one of the worst war crimes of modern history used that UN approval to obliterate the entire nation – literally flattened it – entirely illegal.

        The country was home to 30,000 Chinese nations who would all come under direct attack. The Chinese were ordered to stand down and evacuate the country and abandon all their infrastructure which the US just bombed.

        The Chinese in response for the first time in their history sent a war ship INTO the Med to evacuate their nationals.

        From that day the Chinese made a public declaration that none of their interests or people would ever be threatened or destroyed by the the UNited States again and they embarked on their expansion – including the Spratly Islands etc and their Carrier fleet.

  1. Without an entire fleet to protect it, the aircraft carrier is a sitting duck. A lot of other ships and submarines will need to be built as well to project power. 100 ships in a decade simply won’t be enough.

    • @Ronin US aircraft carrier battle groups usually have a flotilla of up to six ships escorting them, building 100 ships dedicated to carrier escort is sufficient for the number of carrier’s China has planned.

      • That’s a strike carrier group. You will need a lot more ships to defend against antiship cruise missiles.

        • @Ronin the US has built an entire class of Destroyer’s with high capacity vertically launched surface to air missiles, the hypersonic missiles still need to be guided to the target and it’s questionable how well the missiles will guide themselves to the target when travelling to the target at Mach 5+.

          • Ronin8317MEMBER

            Er? This is China protecting its naval carrier against the US, not the other way around. China will need a LOT more ships to do the job.

          • @Ronin…on what basis?? They’ve stolne all the technology from Silicon Valley and steal the blueprints to semi-conductor technology from the factories Western companies have greedily and negligently offshored in China.

    • True.
      As an aside, aircraft carriers remind me of battleships. A massive, capital intensive weapon from a previous era.

    • China has more subs than the US and is on track to have double the number within a decade – oh who cares, just read the damned article – they have an absolutely massive fleet.

      Go check out their submarine building base in Southern China – the Pentagon flipped out about 15 years ago when they realised the entire MOUNTAIN bordering the ocean had been hollowed out and was building Subs.

      Remember this …yeah….

      • SnappedUpSavvyMEMBER

        hey Leo, why do you “monitor” this site and use a different name every couple weeks?

    • They already are. The Liaoning class will be escorted by the Renhai cruiser class destroyer plus a number of Luyang II &III destroyers and the Jiankai II frigates, subs etc. Quite a sizeable fleet.

    • Jevons ghostMEMBER

      The Gotland class subs are close to their use-by date. Why not go for an adaptation of the design (A26 class) that is apparently going to replace them. Or hedge our bets by going for 2 types of sub – 6 of each 🙂

      • Fair point, an updated version of this brilliant little killer would be ideal. The half dozen of each also has its merits. Just as important is building well guarded and defended bunkers for them.

  2. Stewie GriffinMEMBER

    ” All of this lead to a number of unsolved questions. To what end is Beijing building this force? How many carriers will the PLAN ultimately build? Is China growing a carrier force meant to protect its interests or expand them? We simply don’t know—but we will certainly find out”

    The Chinese building an Aircraft Carrier factory suggests that they won’t be just stopping at 3 or 4…

    • Been trying to get this across peoples heads for 24 months.

      China has 3 Carrier ship building yards – each one capable of outputting a carrier every 10 months – China production capacity is literally 3 times that of the US.

      Now consider what happens when China unveils not just ONE Stealth H-20 but TWO variants which were due to be demonstrated at their National Parade last month.

      Its getting so ridiculous.

      • Yeah, but Chinese steel will have missing alloys because of shoddy practice, and ships will be barely sea worthy after 2 years.

        Critical components will have worlds worst welding, missing or faulty parts

        ‘Made in China” has a known quality.

      • I hear what you’re saying Leo. We need to aggressively deal China a blow now or be forever lost!
        Good on you for pushing the message.

  3. despite over 250 aircraft carrier being deployed during WWII only few were built before the war (around 30 and out of that less than 20 were of modern type) thanks to Washington Naval Treaty
    prior to WWII three nations had a fairly equal share of carrier power (USA, UK and Japan)
    currently that number is quite similar somewhere between 17 and 30 depending on definition but the share is fairly unequal with USA having more than all other countries combined
    there are 11-12 on order/under construction of which 6 American
    thanks to ballistic missile submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles, aircraft carriers lost their strategic global war importance and are now only used for small scale conflicts / pressure on smaller isolated nations
    in a global war between two or more nuclear superpowers they would be more a liability than an asset
    they are more like an expensive advertisement than a strategic weapon

    if china goes into an arms race with USA they are going to lose everything without ever using any of the arms

    • @doctor X the US is bankrupt and the strategy from the Chinese is to start a Naval Arms race so as to bankrupt the US just as the US did the USSR in the 1980’s.

      • My thoughts exactly, the US will have an implicit two nations strategy of early 20th century UK.

        Whatever the Chinese build, the US will match it. Funnily enough, if the US repatriates manufacturing, then the resources to build this will be internal debt and not much of a problem, it might even rejuvenate it it ala 1940’s

      • US is not bankrupt – it issues debt in its own currency
        and a currency can be backed by gold or bullets and atm they are backing it quite strongly in around 200 countries in the world
        china on the other hand has more debt and no currency that can be enforced onto others … China still cannot feed it’s own people … and most importantly China has a political system that’s going to collapse as soon progress turns into a stagnation (there is no even need for things to get worse, just end of perpetual improvements will be enough)

  4. “Park it off Batmen’s Bay and watch the Canberra roaches scatter”

    ‘up to thirty J-15 jets’

    I don’t think it will be a threat what so ever to the RAAF.

  5. The finest quantum carriers, constructed of the highest quality chinesium, crewed by only the nepotistic cream of party princelings, and running on fuel.

    Only good for glorified littoral operations within bunkering range. Deny the deepwater ports and sink the re-fuelers, problem solved.

    And who cares about the US carriers. Are the CCP going to sink Japan?

  6. PaddydangerfieldMEMBER

    The USA can use Japan, Taiwan and South Korea as aircraft carriers. China is sourrounded by superior US airpower. The US navy will blockade Chinese ports and US airpower will bomb China back to the stoneage. Just like they did to Japan and Germany in ww2. China is like Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in the fact that is too reliant on importing raw commodities. The USA has everything it needs on the American continent.