On June 17, China’s latest aircraft carrier, Fujian, was launched at the country’s Jiangnan Shipyard. The new warship will displace about 80,000 tonnes at full load. Propulsion is by gas turbines linked to generators that provide power to electric motors.
Three catapults will be fitted and aircraft launches will be achieved with the aid of an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS), new technology similar to that being installed in the US Navy’s newest carriers. EMALS obviates the requirement for large, heavy, energy-consuming on-board machinery to generate the steam needed to operate conventional launch systems.
Advance fixed-array radar will enable air and surface surveillance as well as aircraft control.
Fujian’s aviation component will likely include improved variants of the existing J-15 fighter-bomber, as well as the J-20 stealth fighter, KJ-600 airborne early warning aircraft, and Z-20 anti-submarine helicopters. The naval base at Sanya and the Lingshui air base, both situated on Hainan Island, are being upgraded to support the PLA Navy’s latest major asset.
China currently operates two carriers, Liaoning and Shandong. Both are based on an old Soviet design and have experienced operational difficulties. These ships have no catapults, and aircraft operating from the vessels rely instead upon a short take-off run and a ski jump launching aid at the bow.
The carriers’ obsolete steam power plants sometimes find it difficult to attain the wind speed over the deck required to launch the J-15 in calm conditions. This aircraft, reverse engineered from the design of an Su-33 fighter obtained illicitly from Ukraine, is overweight, underpowered, and accident-prone.
Nevertheless, China has made significant progress in carrier operations, as evidenced by the recent observation of sustained multiple flying missions being carried out off Okinawa by Liaoning. Doubtless Fujian, the country’s first indigenously-designed carrier, will spend a number of years on trials and testing, but will eventually become a strategically significant part of the ever-ambitious PLA Navy’s order of battle.
Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police. He is Baird Maritime's resident maritime security expert and columnist.