China's third aircraft carrier, which will likely deploy an electromagnetic catapult to launch aircraft, is now under construction at the Jiangnan Changxingdao shipyard near Shanghai.
Still called the "Type 003," the carrier will be the first full-deck carrier built for the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). High-resolution images from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, reveal for the first time seven sections of the Type 003 laid out from bow to stern.
The Global Times, a tabloid owned by the Communist Party of China, reported the carrier's construction seems to be "progressing smoothly." It also said the carrier will "likely feature many new technologies, including the electromagnetic catapult."
Like the U.S. Navy's nuclear-powered Nimitz-class supercarriers, the Type 003 will launch and recover aircraft from two runways on its flight deck. Chinese state-owned media claims construction of the Type 003 will be completed within the year. The carrier is expected to enter active service with the PLAN in 2023.
Its aircraft complement will come to 40 J-15s, several propeller-powered transport and airborne early warning and control aircraft. It will also carry helicopters.
In comparison, the CNS Liaoning (016) can embark 36 aircraft: 24 J-15s; 6 Changhe Z-18F anti-submarine warfare helicopters; 4 Changhe Z-18J airborne early warning helicopters and 2 Harbin Z-9C rescue helicopters.
The non-nuclear Type 003 will be China's first conventional carrier featuring a lengthy, horizontal flight deck and a catapult-assisted takeoff barrier arrested recovery (CATOBAR) system. Her sister ships, the CNS Liaoning (016) and the CNS Shandong (017), launch their planes from ski-jump ramps.
This launch method, however, means planes have to take off with a lighter load of weapons and fuel. As a result, China's Shenyang J-15 fighter jets designed specifically for naval aviation carry far lighter weapon loads compared to U.S. naval combat aircraft.
The almost 1,000 foot-long Type 003 will remedy this defect. And, if swirling rumors are correct, this warship will become only the second in the world to be equipped with an electromagnetic aircraft launch system. The only other carrier capable of this feat is the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), the newest carrier class in the U.S. Navy.
The USS Gerald R. Ford entered service in 2017. The U.S. Navy intends to build 10 of these monsters, which will replace the Nimitz-class carrier fleet.