The impending sea trials of the first catapult-type aircraft carrier Fujian, the first of the Type 003 class, will be crucial to China’s goal of developing nuclear-powered aircraft carriers on par with the American USS Gerald R. Ford.
A day before the 74th Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Navy, the Chinese official mouthpiece, China Central Television (CCTV), reported that aircraft carrier Fujian’s power and mooring tests were conducted smoothly. Chinese analysts said the ship might head for sea trials in the second half of 2023.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) welcomed the third aircraft carrier Fujian into its fleet in 2022, following the Liaoning and Shandong ships. Built by Shanghai based Jiangnan Shipyard, the ship took six years to fructify. The 80,000 ton PLAN CV-18 Fujian, according to public information, is 300 meters long and powered by conventional means. The maximum speed is 30 knots. The flight deck differs from those of the preceding two ships. The carrier features a flat straight-to-long flight deck and a medium-voltage, direct current (DC) power transmission system for its Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS). It is outfitted with four sets of anti-aircraft missiles and four anti-aircraft cannons; the deck can handle up to 60 carrier-based aircraft.
The EMALS is still covered on the ship, as seen in the latest images, meaning the catapult trials are yet to start. The Chinese will have to improve the Mean time between failures (MTBF) for the EMALS to match that of American carriers. Its maturity will ultimately determine the types of aircraft the carrier can embark on and the aircraft carriers of the future.
The CCTV does not specify which “new-type” aircraft could be launched from Fujian, although it has been suggested that they include fighters with foldable wings, fixed-wing drones, and airborne early warning planes.
Liaoning and Shandong currently use J-15 ( clone of the Russian Sukhoi Su-33) fighters. Experts believe that the improved J-15T will likely assume the lead on Fujian until the next-generation J-35 stealth model matures, at which point it will be gradually replaced.
Previously, the “People’s Navy” WeChat public account of the Publicity and Culture Centre of the Naval Political Work Department published a recruitment video for Navy pilots in 2023. Military experts have identified the new fighter jet at the film’s end as the latest stealth carrier-based fighter J-35 (the model has not yet been officially confirmed). In the film, the aircraft carrier-based fighter pilots have accepted new missions, indicating that training has begun for the new fighters designated to the Fujian ship.
The possible type of aircraft carried by the Fujian ship includes the J-15 (J-15B or J-15T – which is a catapult-enabled version of the J-15B and an electronic warfare variant J-15D) J-35, Air Borne Early Warning KJ-600, Harbin Z-20 medium multiutility Helicopter, and drones with stealth technology. The combination will be comparable to that of the United States, which consists of the F-35C stealth fighter jet, the F/A-18E/F multirole fighter jet, the EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft, and the E-2D early warning aircraft.
Three aircraft carrier era, but more are needed
The People’s Liberation Army Navy will officially enter the era of three aircraft carriers when the Fujian aircraft carrier completes its sea trials and becomes combat-ready. As per CCTV, China has an extensive ocean area; only the Liaoning, Shandong, and Fujian aircraft carriers are insufficient to meet demand, so additional aircraft carriers will inevitably be constructed.
The CCTV report indicates that “the best is yet to come, and bigger, better, and stronger aircraft carriers are still in the works.”
China’s 005 aircraft carrier may use nuclear power
A few days ago, the official Weibo of Jiangnan Shipyard published an article titled “Looking at the Boat Culture and Creation” Helps Cultural Communication and Lights Up Every Dream.”
The photo on the cover revealed a new aircraft carrier with hull number 20, a carrier-based aircraft similar to the stealth carrier aircraft J-35 in the air, and a 10,000-ton warship next to it. This is expected to be the Type 055 class Aircraft carrier.
This aircraft carrier’s island has been reduced even further, making it not only significantly smaller than the “Liaoning ship” and “Shandong ship,” but also smaller than the “Fujian ship.” Moreover, the reduced position of the island closely resembles the configuration of the American aircraft carrier of the Ford class.
Conventional aircraft carriers have exhaust pipelines, but nuclear-powered ones do not. Since there are no air intakes and exhaust ports, the ship island can move a great distance aft, leaving much usable space for the front and middle portion of the deck. This significantly simplifies the take-off process of carrier-based aircraft and enables the rapid descent of the fighter. In other words, the hull 20 domestic aircraft carrier will be powered by nuclear energy.