China’s Third Aircraft Carrier Is Almost Here

 In China, Sea, Air, Forces & Capabilities, P5

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.”

Having already launched its second car­ri­er, the Shangdong, the Chinese have for quite some time been work­ing on the con­struc­tion of this newer, far-more capable third aircraft car­ri­er.

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.

China may arm its future carriers with its J-15 Flying Shark fight­er and will likely add a car­ri­er-launched vari­ant of its 5th-Gen J-31 stealth fight­er.

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. 

Image: Reuters

National Interest source|articles

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