Last Friday, China launched its third and most advanced aircraft carrier, Fujian, from Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai. It is reportedly the first aircraft carrier wholly designed and built in China. Fujian is expected to be an ingenious military advancement for China regarding its prowess and naval capacity.
The launching of the new aircraft carrier named the “Fujian” (previously known as Type 003) comes after increased tensions along the Taiwan Strait as China aggressively postures against the US and Taiwan. China has expressed that it wants to “reunify” the entire Chinese population through whatever means, even if that means by force. However, they have also said they are pursuing a more peaceful approach to “reunification.”
As described by state news outlet China Central Television (CCTV), the Fujian is the most technologically advanced carrier in the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ‘s fleet, boasting that it was the “first catapult aircraft carrier wholly designed and built by China.” As China names its aircraft carriers after its provinces, China interestingly called this most recent aircraft carrier the “Fujian,” after the Chinese Province “Fujian,” which is also the closest province to Taiwan. At the Taiwan Strait’s narrowest point, China and Taiwan are separated by a mere 80 miles (128 km).
Chinese state media showed naval officers watching the launch of the aircraft carrier last Friday, where fireworks and confetti were released, along with red banners celebrating the Chinese’s goal of building a modern navy.
Congratulations! China launched its third aircraft carrier "#Fujian". The carrier was completely designed and built by China and is China's first domestically-made carrier that uses catapults. pic.twitter.com/shbznRtPof
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) June 18, 2022
“Because China has not been fully unified so far and continues to have disputes in the South China Sea and Diaoyu Islands, it is necessary for China to strengthen its military capabilities,” Chinese military analyst Song Zhongping stated.
However, it is essential to note that the Fujian is not yet in operational capacity and is not yet integrated with the Chinese Navy. Furthermore, Chinese officials have yet to announce the date for entry into service. CCTV reported that the Fujian would have to go through sailing and mooring tests as planned prior to being officially inducted into service. The US Department of Defense estimated that the carrier will be ready for service by 2023 or 2024, as it usually takes two years for the Chinese to induct their carriers into service officially. However, some analysts have extended the Fujian’s official induction into as far as 2025.
But, when it officially joins service, Fujian will be welcomed by its predecessor, Liaoning, which was commissioned in 2012 after being refurbished and redesigned. Another predecessor, the Shandong, commissioned in 2019, will also stand in its shadows. The Liaoning and the Shandong utilize a ski-jump-styled platform to launch their aircraft, essentially just a way for airplanes to take off from a ramp. At the same time, the Fujian uses Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS)-powered catapults.
Fujian Competes With The US Aircraft
This new system is closer in technology to those used on US aircraft carriers. This will enable China to launch more varieties of aircraft faster with heavier payloads, more fuel, more ammunition, and larger aircraft (such as the Xian KJ-600 and the J-35 fighter jet) with a lower thrust-to-weight ratio. Ski-Jump type carriers are limited in these areas, though China will not be able to launch and recover aircraft at the same time as US Carriers can. Thus, this gives Chinese planes an advantage over those with less fuel and ammunition when getting into air combat. The Fujian has a flight deck that measures some 1,037 feet (316 meters), and a full-load displacement of some 80,000 tons to 100,000.
Overhead drone video of China's aircraft carrier #FUJIAN 18 during the christening ceremony. Sheds topped with banners cover the ship's three EMALS/CATOBAR catapults. Drydock was flooded before the ceremony and ship moved out afterwards https://t.co/xDUFFuefyo
— Chris Cavas (@CavasShips) June 17, 2022
This does not mean that they have overtaken the US since the US fleet has 11 aircraft carriers with far more advanced technology. Its American counterparts are more prominent (the Fujian is comparable to the Kitty Hawk-class carriers), equipped with more catapults and more deck area, and have more elevators to assist in quicker aircraft launches. The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) suggested that the elevators would have been configured with two starboard-side aircraft elevators similar to the Shandong, albeit larger enabling them to lift two aircraft simultaneously. Compared to the US, the Gerald R. Ford-class carriers have three elevators that can lift two airplanes simultaneously.
More so, all US aircraft carriers are nuclear-powered, while the Fujian, on the other hand, is reportedly running on the more conventional steam propulsion, limiting its range and requiring tankers to follow and replenish their fuel as well as their stores for the crew. However, this would not be a problem for the Chinese now as all of their territorial pursuits lie relatively close to their countries, such as their dispute with Taiwan and the Southeast Asian nations, which all have claims on several islands in the South China Sea.
In a naval war, the United States could attack the Chinese replenishment ships and tankers for their carriers which would leave them cut off at sea and limit how long they could stay at sea.
Thus far, Chinese aircraft carriers only seem to deploy for a couple of weeks rather than months on end as US nuclear-powered carriers are capable of. It is not known if this is simply a function of not being able or willing to refuel a task force at sea or if their aircraft have to be returned to shore for maintenance. US aircraft carriers have spare parts and engines along with technicians to keep their planes flying for months.
Japan recently reported the sighting of two PLAN destroyers and a replenishment ship last Monday some 124 miles (200 km) west of Fukue Island, Nagasaki Prefecture. These vessels were later determined to be Chinese destroyers CNS Lhasa (102) and CNS Chengdu (120) and replenishment ship CNS Dongpinghu (902). These ships sailed through the Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan, prompting Japan to heighten its naval security.
Chinese belligerence, along with the launching of their new aircraft carrier, is a sign that China will continue to build up its naval and ground forces to challenge US supremacy in the Pacific.