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China: Next Aircraft Carriers

Aircraft Carriers


A report in Defense News states China is making steady progress on its second aircraft carrier, the Shandong. Under construction near Shanghai, Shandong is set to be China's first domestically produced aircraft carrier and the first to be combat-ready.


Previously known as Type 001A, the carrier's official name was recently announced on Shandong province television and radio. Shandong is currently under construction at the Dalian shipyards, where the nation's first aircraft carrier, Lioaning, was converted from a rusting, unfinished ex-Soviet Navy hulk to active duty Chinese Navy ship.

In a rundown on Shandong's construction progress, Defense News says "the new carrier is broadly similar to the Liaoning and retains the ski jump for launching aircraft, but contains a revised flight deck arrangement." The article states the superstructure—the island overseeing the flight deck from where flight operations are controlled—has been mated to the hull and the ship should be launched later this year. "Launching" in warship construction is the floating of a partially constructed hull in water. The ship will still require several more years of fitting out before it can be commissioned into military service and considered ready for combat.
Like Liaoning, Shandong will also utilize a STOBAR (Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) system. Under STOBAR, aircraft are launched taking off from a ramp on the ship's bow. Although China has constructed traditional steam-powered catapults at its naval aviation base, it apparently wants to leapfrog to the latest Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) technology, which is being fitted to the U.S. Navy's new Ford-class carriers.

The short take-off ramp method of launching planes is less than ideal. In order to take off in such a distance without a steam or electromagnetic-powered assist aircraft must keep their takeoff weight down. That, in turn, limits the amount of weapons and fuel they can carry, curtailing their range and combat effectiveness. It also rules out using larger and slower propeller-driven aircraft such as the U.S. Navy's E-2D Hawkeye airborne early warning and control aircraft.

Unlike U.S. Navy carriers, Shandong will likely be limited to an all-fighter fixed wing aircraft force, with early warning and control provided by land-based aircraft. This will ultimately restrict how far the carrier can operate from land-based support.

Shandong will be China's first combat-ready carrier. The first, Liaoning, will probably remain a training ship for future carrier crews. According to Defense News, China's naval aviation base appears to have an EMALS catapult installed. The article also states that an aircraft mock-up with a large rotating rotodome over its fuselage, like the E-2D Hawkeye, has also been sighted. This suggests that the Chinese Navy's future carriers will have both new features, making them increasingly capable versus the U.S. Navy's Nimitz and Ford-class nuclear aircraft carriers.

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