The US military consider China its main potential enemy for a reason. Unlike Russia, with its parade of “no analogues”, China has both 5th generation fighters and real aircraft carriers, not the poor “Kuzya”(Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier). And in general, the People’s Liberation Army of China is the second largest army in the world in terms of personnel and technical support. And China is trying hard to confirm this.
Today, June 17, 2022, China launched the first Type 003 aircraft carrier (by the way, the last, there will be only one ship in this class), the first ship built outside the United States that can carry aircraft and can be classified as a supercarrier. It can already be compared, at least in size, to the American Nimitz-class aircraft carriers (launched in 1972-2006) and even the most modern Gerald R. Ford class, which so far has only one main ship, which went into service in 2017, and two more such ships are under construction.
All modern American aircraft carriers, like most US aircraft carriers since World War II, use the so-called CATOBAR system (Catapult Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery), i.e. a catapult to launch aircraft, and a rope with a hook for landing. While the Soviet and the first Chinese aircraft carriers, which were rebuilt by the Soviets, use the system STOBAR (Short Take-Off, Barrier-Arrested Recovery), i.e. when the planes land, the cable with a hook works, but when launched springboard is used.
And it would be good if Soviet and Russian planes had enough traction for such a takeoff, but no, Russian fighters can take off from “Kuzya” (Admiral of the Soviet Navy Kuznetsov, a famous destroyer of Russian planes and budgets), or with half fuel, or without weapons. Very comfortable.
There are also aircraft carriers with the STOVL (Short Take-Off And Vertical Landing) system, ie for aircraft with vertical takeoff and landing, but we are not talking about them.
Chinese aircraft carriers Type 001 and Type 002 used the Soviet STOBAR system, because they were Soviet aircraft carriers. Type 001, which became operational under the name Liaoning, is an unfinished Kuziya classmate, the Varyag bought from Ukraine for only $30 million. Type 002, or Shandong is Chinese variation on the theme of Kuznetsov. China bought and completed the Varyag in order to understand the concept of aircraft carrier construction and to start training the crew and pilots. This is not the first time China has received foreign military equipment, studied it, disassembled it, and then assembled almost the same, but from its own components. Sometimes it turns out even better than the original.
Liaoning joined the fleet in 2012, Shandong in 2019. After training on STOBAR aircraft carriers, China realized all the shortcomings of such an aircraft launch system, and in the new aircraft carrier, the Type 003, switched to CATOBAR.
That is, the first and only Type 003 ship, named Fujian, will use catapults, and no longer steam, but ultra-modern, electromagnetic. Experts have already called Fujian “the largest and most modern aircraft carrier ever built outside the United States.”
Interestingly, it was originally planned to equip the Type 003 with steam catapults, but later the idea was abandoned. The hull of the ship was laid back in March 2015, in July 2021 a catapult was mounted on Fujian, and now it has been launched. It is believed that in 2023 Fujian will enter the service.
Nothing is known yet about the operational characteristics and armament of the ship, but there are already assumptions about the aviation group. Most likely, there are 40 Shenyang FC-31 5th generation fighters in the naval version plus one Xi’an KJ-600 long-range radar-powered turboprop aircraft. Both types of aircraft underwent test flights in 2021.
But in fact, Type 003 is also a pen test. China’s target is an aircraft carrier with a nuclear power plant and the Type 003 is just a step away, which is why there is only one ship in this class. In fact, the development of Type 004 with a nuclear installation and even greater displacement is already underway. In 2017, it seems that the cutting of metal and the installation of heavy cranes for the construction of the ship’s hull began. Even experimental nuclear reactors on salt melts were tested in 2020.
It is believed that the Type 004 aircraft carrier reactors will be able to produce enough energy to supply power to electromagnetic catapults, laser weapons, and rails. The ships, with a total of 4 aircraft carriers in the series, will have a displacement of 110,000 tons, will be able to develop a speed of more than 30 knots, and carry up to 100 aircraft and helicopters, plus a variety of UAVs, including invisible. The first Type 004 aircraft carrier is expected to join the fleet in the second half of the 2020s.
We should note that the doctrine of the US Navy requires the presence of 11 supercarriers at once. And the CVN-79 aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, which is due to join the fleet in 2024, will replace the first Nimitz-class ship, the CVN-68 Nimitz itself, which was launched in 1972 and still remains in service.
Type 004 specifications:
Type – aircraft carrier
Displacement tonnage – 71,875 tons (standard), 80,000 tons (full)
Length – 300 m (on the waterline), 320 m (on the takeoff deck)
Width – 39.5 m (on the waterline), 78 m (on the takeoff deck)
Engine – conventional with an integrated electric power plant
Crew – unknown
Aviation group – probably 40 planes