While many U.S. and western naval analysts mock China’s two (first-generation) ski-ramp medium carriers as a bit of a joke, they miss the point that they have a role, like our America-class amphibious assault ships, and are also test beds for China‘s real carriers being built. And satellite images are revealing that the next, more advanced carrier, Type-003 still under construction in Shanghai, will be a monster.
It could be in many ways comparable to a U.S. supercarrier, at least in size and minimal capabilities, though slightly shorter in overall length. Significantly, unlike U.S. carriers, the Type-003 is not expected to be nuclear powered, as the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has not been able to perfect (or steal) the technology required for nuclear propulsion of that size.
Apparently, nuclear reactors for their submarines were easier to develop.
This will of course limit the range of the ship and will require at-sea-refueling – both are operational hindrances at long distances from China’s mainland, but less so if operating closer to shore.
A new aircraft carrier being built in Shanghai is significantly larger than the current two in service with the Chinese Navy
— Peter Martin (@PeterMartin_PCM) April 16, 2021
Referring to the photo and imagery in the tweet above, Naval News notes that:
The above satellite image allows us to estimate its waterline length at about 300 meters (985 feet). This is slightly less than the Ford Class’ 317 meters (1,040 feet) but longer than the previous carriers. China’s Type-001 Liaoning and Type-002 Shandong carriers are about 270 meters (885 feet) long at the waterline.
The catapult take-off will be a step up in capabilities to the existing Chinese carriers. These use a short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) system with a ski-jump bow. It seems likely that without a catapult fitted, the earlier two will not be able to operate the new KJ-600 plane.
This airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft is China’s analogue to the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. It promises to greatly increase the situational awareness of the carrier battle group. With this plane the Type-003 will make the PLAN one of only three navies with fixed winger carrier based AEW, joining the US Navy and Marine Nationale (French Navy).
While similar to U.S supercarriers, Naval News explains that the real closest equivalent is likely to be France’s next-generation carrier, the PANG (Porte-avions de nouvelle génération). That warship will have a waterline length of 305 meters (1,000 feet), though its flight deck will be shorter at 300 meters (984 ft). The PANG will also continue to be nuclear-powered, like its predecessor the Charles de Gaulle.
Combined with the expected CATOBAR catapult launch configuration, where jets are launched by a catapult and recovered using arrestor gear, China’s Type-003 will be able to carry heavier, more effective aircraft with larger payloads and ranges.
Still to be determined is whether the Chinese carrier will perfect and deploy the electromagnetic catapult system the U.S. Navy is having so many problems with on the newest Ford-class supercarrier. Initial reports showed the PLAN was having similar problems. ADN