A new aircraft carrier, the Type 003, currently under construction in Shanghai, is the most visible sign that China’s navy is rapidly expanding in size

Aircraft carriers are a strategic priority for the world’s leading navies. Experienced navies, such as the British Royal Navy, French Navy, and Indian Navy, are all in the process of acquiring or equipping new aircraft carriers. Japan, South Korea and other potential countries are all taking steps to join the aircraft carrier club. But nowhere is the effort more evident than in China. The Chinese Navy has commissioned two aircraft carriers based on the design of Russia’s Admiral Kutzenov class. But their third aircraft carrier, the Type-003, promises to take the PLAN to the next level.

The US Navy, which has been the world leader for decades in this technology, is also modernizing with a new class of super-carriers. The first Ford-class ship, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), entered service in 2017. Despite some initial problems, it is still the largest and most modern aircraft carrier in the world.

China's Type 003
China’s Type 003

The Type-003 is very close in size to the US Navy’s aircraft carriers. And although the definition is vague, it seems fair to describe it as a “supercarrier”. The latest images of the Type 003 allow observers to see the size and layout of the ship, and compare it with Ford. The Chinese ship is about 320m long, about 13m shorter than Ford. And it seems that the Type 003 is even shorter if you put the two ships side by side.

Chinese ship has a narrower flight deck. Its approximately 73m wide is very similar to the earlier Type-001 and Type-002 aircraft carriers. There could be logistical reasons for this, such as dock size. Or it may simply be that Chinese planners are satisfied with the width of the current carriers.

The big change from current carriers is its CATOBAR system (Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery), while the first two are STOBAR (Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery). Like Ford, the Type-003 is said to use an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) instead of a steam catapult. This will promise greater initial speed for the aircraft. For China, this is a huge step forward in naval technology.

Type-003 will have three catapults, two in the bow and one in the midship. This is one less than the Ford, which, like previous American aircraft carriers with 4 steam catapults. With the new catapults, it will allow Type 003 to operate new types of aircraft. A new fixed-wing airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft KJ-600 is expected to enter service on the Type 003.

Other new aircraft are expected to include a carrier-based version of the FC-31 (J-31) stealth fighter. A full-size mock-up of the new aircraft carrier accompanied by the FC-31 fighter jet recently appeared at a test site in Wuhan. The aircraft will generally be equivalent to Ford’s F-35C Lightning-II. However, the FC-31 has two engines and may have a larger internal weapons bay. It is likely that this new Chinese aircraft will take some time to enter service, so the Type-003 will probably start operating with the J-15 fighters.


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