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The Chinese Navy Just Humblebragged About Its Upcoming Carrier

June 22, 2018

The PLAN’s Liaoning with her escorts. Via China Military Online.

A short article published by a Chinese state-run newspaper is being used by the PLA to tease its upcoming supercarrier. It was originally published by Global Times on June 20, a Wednesday, and promptly shared by the Chinese military’s propaganda website. Titled Chinese shipbuilder “shows” mysterious new carrier, the article is based on a photo shown online by China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) whose backdrop was an illustration of a naval flotilla.

Prominently featured in the photo was a conceptual image of a supercarrier that had an elongated flight deck crowded with fighter jets. The modest social media commentary it attracted couldn’t determine if this was the latest carrier under construction in CSIC’s shipyard and whether it’s going to be nuclear-powered or not.

The body of evidence supporting the rumor that China is building a 100,000 ton supercarrier is mostly circumstantial anyway. Aside from occasional comments by PLA mouthpieces cited in Chinese media there are neither leaks nor testimonies proving a new class of aircraft carrier is even under construction. What is known at present, however, is the PLAN are building an expeditionary fleet led by its STOBAR models Liaoning and the still unnamed Type 001A. The former is a refurbished hull that was once a Soviet aircraft-carrying missile cruiser and the latter is an improved copy of it.

Exactly how CSIC acquired the expertise to assemble a hull matching the dimensions of the US Navy’s Nimitz and Ford-class supercarriers is baffling. Until this decade the PLAN had no operational experience with aircraft carriers and building one, which took half a dozen years, only commenced this decade. Unless foreign engineers were involved, the likeliest explanation why CSIC is putting together a new class of warship is applying what it learned from the Soviet Union’s failed attempts at constructing nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in the 1980s.

Despite the exorbitant costs involved, the advantages of deploying massive supercarriers loaded with nearly a hundred combat aircraft are enticing. China can send its navy to protect global sea lanes. At the same time it becomes easier to intervene in distant wars where Beijing’s interests are at stake. As a bonus, PLAN strike groups reach peer-competitor status with their American rivals, thereby diminishing the threat posed by the US Navy’s presence over the Asia-Pacific. But none of this is happening right now.

This didn’t stop the PLA from promoting the short Global Times article, which offered a few unverifiable revelations, like the addition of an electromagnetic catapult on the “mystery carrier” to launch its fixed wing aircraft faster. The article did claim that conventional steam engines are used on PLAN carriers until viable maritime nuclear reactors arrive by the 2020s.

On the day after the viral article published by Global Times the PLA’s propaganda website announced the Type 001A aircraft carrier launched in April last year had completed its sea trials that began in May. Until it’s commissioned the Type 001A’s inventory remains uncertain. If it’s equipped like the Liaoning it receives up to 30 J-15 multirole fighters and a collection of helicopters for anti-submarine operations.

To date, the PLAN’s carriers are behind the curve when compared with those deployed by the US and some NATO countries. Their ability to sail abroad is untested though supply ships are now available for replenishment in the high seas. The possibility of China sending a token carrier strike group to war against Taiwan during an invasion is rather dim since it risks getting sunk by cruise missiles.

But once the PLAN start training on a carrier in the 100,000 ton range it means the branch’s doctrine has evolved beyond local combat operations and is a sure sign they’re preparing for a regional conflict abroad. When this happens, countries threatened by China must either embrace new tactics or adjust their foreign policy to stay on good terms with Beijing.

Here is the Mysterious new carrier article published by Global Times:

China’s top shipbuilding firm released a photo on Wednesday of what is believed to be the country’s first aircraft carrier equipped with an electromagnetic aircraft launch system, with Chinese military experts speculating that China will have three aircraft carriers in the near future.

With the new aircraft carrier in the center and the Liaoning and China’s first domestically developed aircraft Type 001A on either side, the photo shows battle groups at sea led by the three carriers as the backdrop at a meeting at the No.701 Research Institute of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), according to the company’s WeChat account on Wednesday. The No.701 institute is dubbed the “cradle of Chinese aircraft carriers.”

It is widely speculated that China is building its third aircraft carrier in Shanghai.

China’s J-15 jet fighters and new type of fixed wing early warning aircraft were on board the mysterious ship.

CSIC Chairman Hu Wenming visited the Wuhan-based institute on Tuesday and attended the meeting, during which CSIC officials and experts discussed the development of China’s surface vessels and submarines, according to the CSIC post.

The photo shows the mysterious carrier with a flat deck as opposed to the other two which have jump-rack decks, which makes it possible for it to have an electromagnetic aircraft launch system, Song Zongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Judging from the photo, the new aircraft carrier will have a displacement above 8 tons, and together with the Liaoning and Type 001A, China will soon have three aircraft carriers, a significant boost to the capabilities of the Chinese navy.

The Type 001A began sea tests in May, and the Liaoning was commissioned to the China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy in 2012.

Song added that judging from the size of the ship, the new aircraft carrier will continue to be steam-powered rather than nuclear-powered.

Three catapults on board show that the new ship will be able to launch aircraft faster and more frequently than the previous ones, and therefore will possess stronger combat capabilities, Song noted.

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