Chinese media are abuzz with a report (originally published by Hong Kong Commercial Daily) confirming construction on China’s second aircraft carrier – the first entirely indigenously produced carrier in China’s fleet. While there have been numerous rumors that construction is underway on a companion to the Liaoning (the first aircraft carrier commissioned into the Chinese Navy), the new report is different in a few respects: one, it directly cites named PLA officials as sources (all of whom confirm the construction) and two, it mentions specific ways the new carrier will improve on the capabilities of the Liaoning.
First, the sources: Admiral Liu Xiaojiang, formerly a political commissar of the PLAN; Vice Admiral Ding Haichun, a deputy political commissar of the PLA Navy; and Rear Admiral Ma Weiming, a PLAN expert in “naval propulsion and electrical engineering” (often-honored for his contributions to Chinese military technology). As Chinese media reports noted, this marked the first time PLAN officers publicly acknowledged the construction of a second aircraft carrier (although there have been rumors about the project for years). Previous reports seeming to confirm the construction were quickly scrubbed from the Chinese internet.
As for new technology, Rear Admiral Ma said China has tested a new launch system “many times” and that all tests so far have gone quite smoothly. Ma spoke of “breakthroughs” in an electromagnetic catapult launch system for the new carrier. The new technology will set it apart from the Liaoning, which uses a more-outdated “ski jump” launch system. Breakthroughs in developing a catapult system would result in an “enormous increase” in the flight radius and payload of carrier-based aircraft, Ma said. With this technology, Ma claimed, China will be on par with or even more advanced than the United States.
Ma would not confirm, however, that the new technology was being used on the carrier currently under construction. Admiral Liu said the new carrier would “definitely” have areas of improvement over the Liaoning but declined to provide any specifics, saying the construction process is “extremely complicated.”
None of the officers interview gave an estimated for when construction would be completed, although Admiral Liu did completely dismiss foreign media reports that the vessel could be ready as early as this year. Those reports were completely unreliable, he said, emphasizing again that “the production workflow arranged by the industrial department is very complicated.”
Liu was also coy on the total number of carriers China will produce, acknowledging that various number (six or less) have been reported in the past. In his own opinion, Liu said, China needed at least three – so that at any given time, China could have one carrier on patrol, one undergoing repairs, and one being used for training. But “the more [carriers] the better,” Liu said, provided the funding is there.
Meanwhile, Liu added that he doesn’t expect the Liaoning to undertake any missions in far seas for another two to three years. China needs more practice, more mature technology, and more fighter jets before undertaking a far-seas missions, Liu said. He also emphasized that China must train more carrier pilots as it continues building up its capabilities.