ITDC INDIA EPRESS/ ITDC NEWS Chinese state-run media on Sunday confirmed that work on the nation's third aircraft carrier was "progressing smoothly".
Chinese state media have been tight-lipped about the project, which was 'officially' confirmed in 2018. The ship is being built at a shipyard in Shanghai and is China’s second indigenously built carrier.
The Global Times reported, "the carrier could be launched as soon as the end of 2020, although experts said on Sunday that the launch could also take place in early 2021." The US Department of Defense's annual report on China's military modernisation, which was released in August, noted the "second domestically built carrier is projected to be operational by 2024". Interestingly, the Global Times noted the ship was being built using modular technology, which involves different parts of the ship being built separately simultaneously. This would allow for faster construction and also ease of upgradation.
China currently has two aircraft carriers: The Liaoning, a former Soviet ship purchased from Ukraine, and the Shandong, an indigenously built vessel that is based on the Soviet design. The indigenous aircraft carrier was commissioned in December last year. Both the Liaoning and Shandong displace about 60,000 tonnes in weight. The two vessels use a 'ski jump', an elevated ramp on their flight deck, to launch aircraft. This limits the aircraft's take-off weight, meaning it can carry less than maximum possible load of fuel and weapons.
On the other hand, the third aircraft carrier will be significantly larger and longer than the Liaoning and Shandong. Global Times quoted a Chinese publication as stating, "the warship will be about 320 meters long, surpassing the Shandong's 305 meters. Although these measurements are only approximate, the report said that this means the third aircraft carrier will surely have a full displacement of more than 80,000 tons, making it a heavy aircraft carrier".
More importantly, the vessel is expected to have 'electromagnetic' catapults to impart momentum to aircraft. This would enable fighter jets to take off at significantly heavier weights. Moreover, catapults would allow the third aircraft carrier to launch specialised aircraft like the KJ-600 airborne early-warning aircraft. An airborne early-warning aircraft can monitor airspace and track incoming enemy aircraft and missiles. It can also coordinate attack missions against sea and land targets. The capability to launch fixed-wing airborne early-warning aircraft from aircraft carriers would put China in a rarefied club, with the US and France the only other nations to operate fixed-wing AEW aircraft from their carriers.
The UK, India and Russia use helicopters for airborne early-warning purposes on their aircraft carriers. Fixed-wing AEW aircraft offer multiple advantages over helicopters, including higher speed and higher altitude and electrical power, both of which gives their radar more range and processing power.
In July, the South China Morning Post reported the final assembly work on China’s third aircraft carrier had started, while the same shipyard had begun work on a fourth 'sister ship'.
The progress in China's aircraft carrier programmes comes as India's first ‘Indigenous Aircraft Carrier’, being built in Kochi, remains delayed. The Indigenous Aircraft Carrier is expected to begin sea trials towards the end of 2020. Both the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier and the in-service INS Vikramaditya displace about 45,000 tonnes and use the ski-jump method to launch aircraft. Plans for a third aircraft carrier, which would be larger and feature catapults, remain hazy.