China finalising design for second homemade aircraft carrier

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China's first domestically built aircraft carrier, the Type 002, is seen during its launch ceremony in Dalian in May. The second made-in-China carrier will have a similar steam powered propulsion system. Photo: Reuters / Stringer

Sources within the People’s Liberation Army have revealed that the design for China’s second homemade carrier is “nearing its end,” pending Beijing’s approval, and construction is expected to commence within a year.

Speculation has been rife that the PLA is now capable of placing miniaturised nuclear reactors to generate impetus for the new carrier; however, the Hong Kong-based Kanwa Defense Review notes in its January 2018 issue that the second carrier, which is likely to bear the codename Type 003, will be a steam-propelled seagoing airbase, like its Type 002 predecessor.

The Type 002 has already been built at China Shipbuilding Industry Corp’s Dalian Shipyard in the northeastern province of Liaoning. Its dry dock was flooded for the first time in late April and it is currently undergoing electrical and mechanical tests, paving the way for sea trials.

The Type 003 will likely to be built at China State Shipbuilding Corp’s Jiangnan Shipyard, on Shanghai’s Changxing island, which sits in the middle of the Yangtze River estuary.

No major modifications to the Changxing facilities have been identified, based on analysis of recent satellite images. This offers another indication that the Type 003 will be conventionally powered.

Still, the Type 003 can be easily distinguished from its predecessor and the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, whose hulk was purchased from Russia. It has its own design that may involve doing away with a ski-jump on the bow, according to military commentator Andrei Chang.

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An aircraft carrier model is seen at the China Vessel Research and Design Centre in Wuhan.

The PLA has a full-scale onshore carrier model made of concrete at the China Vessel Research and Design Centre in Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei province. Leaked images indicate its flight deck is flat, without any upward tilt on the bow.

Chang also said that his sources had further confirmed that spy helicopters and large combat drones would also be able to get on board the new carrier and will be launched by a steam catapult-assisted take-off system similar to the one on the Type 002.

More shipboard aircraft necessitate a bigger hangar, and the Type 003 may have a full load displacement of 85,000 tons, putting it on a par with the Kitty Hawk, the last oil-fired carrier in the United States Navy. The Kitty Hawk was decommissioned in May 2009.

It is believed that China can expedite the construction of its Type 003, drawing on its experience in refurbishing the Liaoning and emulating the former Soviet-built warship for its Type 002 carrier.

By the mid-2020s, the PLA Navy will likely have two carrier strike groups and one training carrier, the Liaoning, in service.

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