The Chinese are embarked on a massive aircraft carrier building program. Here’s a brief look at the current state of affairs.
Type 001. This is the former Soviet Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier that eventually became the Chinese carrier
. It arrived
in Liaoning in March 2002.
The rebuilt China began sea trials in August 2011 and was commissioned
in September 2012. Liaoning
has since initiated the construction of a
domestically built Type 001A carrier which was launched in April 2017 and is
now undergoing fitting out and trials (1).
Construction had begun in March 2015.
This carrier is, outwardly, a copy of the China with a ski ramp for aircraft launches. The design is, no doubt, much improved over
the Liaoning . The ship is
tentatively scheduled to be commissioned around the 2020 time frame. Liaoning
Type 002. A third carrier is under construction – begun in Feb 2016 - and is likely to be a conventional cat and trap carrier with a steam catapult. The ship is reported to be around 85,000 tons.
Type 003. A fourth carrier is reported to be under development as a 100,000+ ton, nuclear powered supercarrier that will feature EMALS launch systems and a fully functional air wing with AEW, EW, and tanker aircraft.
Admittedly, the first two carriers are not Nimitz class supercarriers by any stretch of the imagination. The Type 002 will likely be equivalent to the early Forrestal class or the modernized Midway. The Type 003 will probably be
’s attempt at a true supercarrier to rival the US
Nimitz/Ford carriers. The takeaway from
this is not the number or quality of China ’s carriers but the pace of development and
construction. China has gone from no carriers to multiple carriers in
service, under construction, and under development in less than fifteen
years. That’s breathtaking when compared
to the glacial pace of China military development and construction. U.S.
’s development efforts have been aided by massive
technology acquisition efforts, both legal and illegal that have allowed China to make significant “unearned” leaps in
technological expertise. For example, China ’s carrier development efforts have been aided by its
acquisition of the former Australian carrier, HMAS Melbourne. Reportedly, the Chinese used the China to reverse engineer the catapult system. The salient point, though, is that however
they’ve done it, the Chinese have embarked on a very rapid climb up the
capability mountain. It is the trend
that should be worrisome rather than the current status. Melbourne
(1)China Defense Blog, “Construction of China's 1st homegrown aircraft carrier ahead of schedule”,