Photos show progress of Chinese carriers and reveal more about the design

  • Satellite imagery shows that China has made significant progress on its new carrier in recent weeks.
  • A CSIS analysis of the latest images indicated that some aspects of the design can now be confirmed.
  • Different from its predecessors, the ship has a flat flight deck and catapults.

China has made significant progress on its new aircraft carrier in recent weeks, according to an analysis of the latest satellite images.

High-resolution satellite photos taken in May by Maxar Technologies and analyzed by experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies showed that the aircraft carrier was taking shape at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, but there was still a lot of work to be done. make.

Satellite image of China's third carrier under construction

A high-resolution satellite photo by Maxar Technologies of China’s Third Aircraft Carrier, an unnamed vessel simply known as Type 003, under construction at the Jiangnan Shipyard. (Click to enlarge)

CSRS / Maxar Technologies 2021

A satellite photo taken by Maxar about six weeks later and analyzed by the SCRS shows that China has almost completed work on the flight deck, floats and base superstructure of the carrier, the think tank based in China reported. Washington, DC.

Satellite imagery of China's third carrier under construction

A high-resolution satellite photo from Maxar Technologies of China’s third aircraft carrier under construction. (Click to enlarge)

CSRS / Maxar Technologies 2021

Work on the ship, which will be China’s third aircraft carrier but its first modern flattop, began in 2018.

In a Defense Ministry report on the Chinese military released the following year, the Pentagon said the ship “will likely be larger and equipped with a catapult launch system.” Recent satellite images confirm this earlier assessment.

CSIS estimates the length of the new ship to be around 318 meters, making it taller than its two predecessors, the Liaoning and Shandong. And the superstructure, also known as an island, is smaller, leaving more room on the flight deck for a larger air wing.

The aircraft carrier’s flight deck is flat and a catapult-assisted launch system is clearly visible in the latest photos, although it is not clear whether the ship will use steam catapults like the Class aircraft carriers. Nimitz of the US Navy or electromagnetic aircraft carriers like those of the new Ford. -class carriers. Either way, the catapults will be a substantial improvement over previous designs.

Catapults allow a more diverse air squadron not only of fighters, but also of early warning aircraft. They would also allow Chinese fighters to reach their potential. Both Liaoning and Shandong feature ski jump designs that limit the amount of weapons and fuel that China’s J-15 carrier-based heavy fighter jets can launch, reducing combat power. overall aircraft carriers.

Liaoning, the first Chinese aircraft carrier

Liaoning, the first Chinese aircraft carrier

REUTERS / Bobby Yip

China’s newest aircraft carrier, a conventionally powered flattop, is expected to be comparable to the US Navy’s decommissioned Kitty Hawk-class aircraft carriers, although it is likely to have more advanced on-board systems than ships put first in service in the 1960s.

In June, CSIS experts who followed the carrier’s development predicted that China would not be able to launch the ship until 2022, but in their latest progress report they wrote that “recent images suggest that the ship might be ready to be launched later. this year.”

“We weren’t expecting it to go so quickly,” Matthew Funaiole, China Power Project principal investigator at CSIS, told Insider.

“It looks like they moved a little faster than expected,” he said. “They’re moving at a pretty fast pace. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being put in the water later this year.”

Funaiole and other CSIS experts wrote in their June report on the new aircraft carrier that the ship should “be a tremendous addition to the Chinese Navy and enable it to project its power more effectively” when it finally enters. service, which could be years after launch.

China quickly produced new, better-performing ships, like its new aircraft carrier, but building a high-powered navy is not limited to the quantity and quality of the ships in the fleet.

China has made considerable progress in building an aircraft carrier force, especially with its latest aircraft carrier, but it will likely take time to develop the knowledge and experience of aircraft carrier operations necessary to effectively utilize its aircraft. aircraft carrier. The Chinese Navy has had aircraft carriers for less than a decade.

China is expected to build additional aircraft carriers, potentially in search of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier like the 11 flattops operated by the US Navy, although that remains to be seen.

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