China began construction of its third aircraft carrier at a Shanghai shipyard in 2017, according to sources close to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports this week.
Shanghai Jiangnan Shipyard Group reportedly received the go-ahead for the construction of the new supercarrier in March 2017. “[T]he shipyard is still working on the carrier’s hull, which is expected to take about two years,” one of the sources said. “Building the new carrier will be more complicated and challenging than the other two ships.”
Initial work on China’s second domestically designed carrier (and third carrier overall), the 85,000-100,000 ton Type 002 (CV 18), purportedly began in February 2016, although there are contradictory reports about the precise date. (PLA spokespeople first announced in 2015 that construction of the new carrier had kicked off.)
The People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) first domestically designed and developed aircraft carrier, the Type 001A (CV-17) Shandong, was launched in April 2017 at the Dalian shipyard in Liaoning Province by China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation. It is expected to enter service with the PLAN by the end of 2018.
The Shandong is an improved variant of the PLAN’s only operational aircraft carrier, the 60,000-ton Type 001 Liaoning — a retrofitted Soviet-era Admiral Kuznetsov-class multirole aircraft carrier.
“China has set up a strong and professional aircraft carrier team since early 2000, when it decided to retrofit the Varyag [the Ukrainian name of the vessel] to launch as the Liaoning, and it hired many Ukrainian experts … as technical advisers,” another source said this week.
The new Type 002 carrier will likely feature a conventionally-powered catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) aircraft launch system similar to the U.S. Navy’s electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS).
According to some reports, construction of the Type 002 carrier has been delayed because of tests of the CATOBAR system, as the decision whether to move ahead with the aircraft launch system will impact the carrier’s design. As I explained elsewhere:
A PLAN aircraft carrier equipped with EMALS would substantially boost the PLANs carrier force’s combat power. CATOBAR aircraft launch systems put less strain on the airframe of planes during takeoff reducing maintenance cost in the long run and also allows carrier-based aircraft to carry a heavier weapons payload (…) Furthermore, CATOBAR launch systems increase the sortie rates of carrier air wings by allowing a faster landing and takeoff rate.
“The new vessel will have a smaller tower island than the Liaoning and its sister ship because it needs to accommodate China’s carrier-based J-15 fighter jets [Shenyang J-15 multirole fighter jet, a variant of the fourth-generation Sukhoi Su-33 twin-engines air superiority fighter], which are quite large,” the source told SCMP.
“It has been suggested that they look to Britain’s warship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, which has two small tower islands on the deck. That would create more space for the runway and aircraft, but no final decision has been made yet,” the source added.
The new carrier will reportedly feature a new integrated propulsion system (IPS) to power high-energy consuming laser weapon systems, electromagnetic guns, and the CATOBAR aircraft launch system, next to others. An estimated launch date for the Type 002 carrier is 2020. The PLANs first supercarrier could enter service by 2023.