China’s first aircraft carrier is in operation, the second and third indigenous carriers are currently under advanced stage of construction and fourth is in the planning phase. China has begun operating its first aircraft carrier —the refurbished, conventionally powered, Ukrainian built flattop Liaoning – with a full load displacement of almost 60,000 tons. The Liaoning’s air wing may consist of 24 J-15 fighters, six anti-submarine warfare helicopters, four airborne early warning helicopters, and two rescue helicopters, for a total of 36 aircraft. China has also strengthened the battle capabilities of its first and lone aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, as reported by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Daily. China is training its own carrier-borne fighter pilots. It is one of the few countries to do so.
CHINA’s first homegrown aircraft carrier — dubbed Project 001A, or CV17, is nearing completion and is likely to be launched within weeks. China Central Television (CCTV) reported that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s Type 001A class aircraft carrier’s scaffold has been removed and red undercoat has been painted below the ship’s waterline in Dalian, northeastern Liaoning Province, and that a launching ceremony will soon be held. However, “there’s still a long way to go from its launch to enlistment, which normally takes two years,” Yin Zhuo, a senior researcher at the PLA Navy Equipment Research Center, told CCTV. China’s second aircraft carrier is expected to begin service by 2020, experts said.
China has reportedly achieved a breakthrough on a conventional propulsion system for its next carrier, which would allow it to operate advanced catapults for launching aircraft without necessitating the use of nuclear propulsion.
China needs at least three aircraft carriers to defend its 14,500 kilometer coastline as well as dealing with threats in the South and East China seas, said Cao Weidong, a Chinese military expert. With tensions escalating in the South China Sea, China has embarked upon steady naval building and modernization program. It now has 29 submarines armed with antiship cruise missiles. It added 10 new vessels to the PLA Navy last year including guided missile destroyers, frigates and minesweepers such as the Qingzhou. “The number of new warships that are put into service annually in China has overtaken the U.S. and has become the first in the world,” China Military Online said. In addition, the PLA Navy is also in the process of adding new aircraft carriers.
Xu Guangyu, a senior advisor to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, told the Global Times, “In the long run, China needs to develop its own aircraft carrier battle teams, with at least six aircraft carriers, maritime forces led by guided missile destroyers, as well as attack submarines.” Xu said China will build about 10 more bases for the six aircraft carriers. He explained that they could be built around countries friendly to China, such as Pakistan. He added that the bases could also be built in every continent, but this would depend on whether the countries would want to cooperate with China.
The aircraft carriers are further expected to increase in future. “In order to protect China’s territories and overseas interests, China needs two carrier strike groups in the West Pacific Ocean and two in the Indian Ocean. So we need at least five to six aircraft carriers,” a Chinese defence analyst recently told the People’s Daily. China’s warships have carried out a high-seas training in the Indian Ocean. Chinese navy’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean comes following the release of a White Paper published by the PLA in 2015 outlining a new military strategy enhancing its navy’s duties for the first time to “open seas protection” far from its shores.
The large number of aircraft carriers, successful use of catapult systems and atomic propulsion and long experience in operating carriers would confer Beijing true blue open ocean capability and expand its global reach.
Indigenous Aircraft Carriers
“Unlike the Liaoning(Type 001), China’s first aircraft carrier, a refitted ship built by Ukraine (under the former Soviet Union), the 001A is China-built, and its design, combat capability and technologies will be much more advanced,” Song Zhongping, a military expert, told the Global Times. “One key difference is the design will be more ‘humanized,’ which means all personnel on the carrier will enjoy a more comfortable and modern environment,” Song said
The Liaoning lacks aircraft catapults and instead launches fixed-wing airplanes off the ship’s bow using an inclined “ski ramp.” The electronic catapult system allow the aircraft to be launched with greater fuel and weapon loads hence can fly further than “ski-jump” style carriers. It also allows heavier support aircraft, such as airborne early warning (AEW) radar planes to fly off the deck.
China’s future carrier should be able to carry as many aircraft as possible for China to gain control of the air when fighting strong adversaries at sea, according to Cao Weidong, a Chinese military expert. Cao said the PLA Navy needs a supercarrier similar to the Forrestal-class aircraft carriers of the United States Navy. He said, however, that China’s first supercarrier should not be powered by a nuclear reactor since the nation does not have the technology to operate it.
In 2004, Chinese President Hu Jintao unveiled a new military doctrine calling for the armed forces to undertake “new historic missions” to safeguard China’s “national interests.” Experts believe these missions include asserting or defending China’s territorial claims in the East and South China Sea, securing international shipping lanes and access to foreign oil and asserting China’s status as a leading regional power and a major world power. South China sea is a highly contested region through which roughly $5 trillion in trade passes annually, most of the waterway is claimed by China, though there are overlapping claims by Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia.
Two Liaoning-pattern aircraft carriers by 2020
In December 2013 China’s Central Military Commission told Duowei News it planned to commission two Liaoning-pattern aircraft carriers by 2020, designated as Type 001A. Contracts were awarded to China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation to build the two carriers at a projected cost of US$9 billion and construction started in late 2014.
China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier will be a larger version of Liaoning. The design is reportedly based on drafts of a Soviet-era, nuclear-powered, 80,000-ton vessel capable of carrying 60 aircraft. Chinese website qianzhan.com, citing top sources in the People’s Liberation Army, said China’s first domestically produced aircraft carrier should be launched by 2020. “By that time, China will be able to confront the most advanced US carrier-based fighter jets in high sea,” the Chinese-language article reads.
According to IHS Jane’s, satellite photos of Huangdicun Airbase appear to show the construction of two catapult systems. One of these is thought to be steam-powered while the other is an electromagnetic version. According to analysis by IHS Janes based on Satellite photos, the construction of Chinese second aircraft carrier is in advanced stage in a Dailan shipyard. The second aircraft carrier features a more sophisticated design than its predecessor, the Liaoning. A third carrier currently in the planning stage could be nuclear-powered.
Earlier, China lacked requisite expertise in designing and building the propulsion systems for large ships as well as metallurgy for the vessel’s hull. After three years of research and development, the country finally succeeded in making a special kind of steel that is needed for the manufacturing of the aircraft carrier. It is so strong that an aircraft landing on it will not scratch it.
In addition to the qualified materials, China has trained 2,400 professional welders who work 24 hour shifts in the narrow cabins to produce the ship.
Third 80,000 tonnes Carrier with breakthrough conventional propulsion system to power electronic catapult
A third carrier currently in the planning stage could be bigger than her two predecessors—as big as an American Nimitz-class supercarrier, the ship’s features apparently mirror those on the latest American carriers—three elevators for efficiently moving planes between decks and four electric catapults for quickly launching them.
The third carrier shall be equipped with a Electromagnetically Assisted Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) catapult. Compared to steam catapautls, EMALS catapults are less maintenance intensive, mechanically simpler and have greater power and flexibility to launch larger and heavier aircraft like the U.S. Navy’s E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft or the C-2 Greyhound carrier on-board delivery aircraft.
The PLAN currently operates a version of the Changhe Z-18 transport helicopter fitted with a multimode active electronically scanned array radar on board the Liaoning as its airborne early warning platform. However, compared to a fixed-wing turboprop aircraft like the Hawkeye, a helicopter has significantly reduced endurance and operating altitude, which results in a significantly reduced time on station and radar range, respectively.
US flattops are nuclear-powered which confers a greater sailing range and supports more sensors, weaponry and other systems. However China has reportedly achieved a breakthrough on a conventional propulsion system for its next carrier, which would allow it to operate advanced catapults for launching aircraft without necessitating the use of nuclear propulsion.
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper, quoting sources close to China’s People’s Liberation Army, reported that a team led by China’s top naval engineer, Rear Adm. Ma Weiming, has developed a medium-voltage, direct-current transmission network to replace an earlier system based on alternating current.
Forming part of an integrated propulsion system, the new system would allow a conventionally powered aircraft carrier to operate an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, which conveys a number of advantages over traditional steam catapults that include increased efficiency, precision and shortening aircraft launch cycles.
Last year, Beijing-based Chinese naval expert Li Jie acknowledged the problem to the South China Morning Post “Compared with submarines, a carrier is much bigger,” . “It will take time for our nuclear engineers to develop a safe and powerful engine capable of driving a huge platform of more than 100,000 tonnes.” However, China might attempt to follow in the footsteps of the recently retired USS Enterprise (CVN-65), which used eight submarine reactors but at the cost of a lot of space, since United States didn’t have the technology to build reactors suitable for an aircraft carrier when Enterprise was built.
Aircraft Carriers remain premium Force Projection instruments
Despite the proliferation of threats, Carriers remain premier instruments for presence, deterrence, and coercion, while air wing renders the carrier a potent warfighting system able to project power and exert control of the seas around which it operates.
U.S. Naval War College analyst Andrew Erickson expects Beijing to produce “more than three” homemade flattops, presumably by the 2020s. “Developing such a capability is the only way for China to achieve robust sea control and long-range maritime power projection,” Erickson wrote.
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