China's Third, Fourth Aircraft Carriers in the Pipeline: What to Expect

By | May 11, 2017 12:53 PM EDT
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USS Stennis Conducts Operations in Philippine Sea

In this handout provided by the U.S. Navy, a combined formation of aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9 pass in formation above the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). (Photo : Getty Images)

China will not stop constructing aircraft carriers even though it recently launched its second carrier, experts suggested, saying the new Type 001A is just the beginning of Beijing as a maritime power.

"We will continue to build aircraft carriers," Li Jie, a navy expert from Beijing, told Global Times. "The People's Liberation Army Navy will have more than three in the future, so as to ensure its combat ability while conducting practice and maintenance at the same time."

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China's third aircraft carrier will reportedly be conventionally powered but will use steam launch catapults. Dubbed as the Type 002, the third carrier will be larger and more capable. Construction of Type 002 reportedly started in March 2015 in Shanghai, although this is yet to be confirmed.

Meanwhile, Li refused to comment on the reports of Type 002 but confirmed that China would eventually construct its third and fourth aircraft carriers.

Li, however, noted that the Type 002 will be different from the Ukraine-made Liaoning and will look more like the US' aircraft carrier instead of Russia.

Its fourth carrier, on the other hand, could be nuclear-powered and will use advanced launch and lacing systems, Sputnik News noted. It will likely carry fourth-generation fixed wing aircraft, warning aircraft, electronic warfare aircraft, and other ship-based aircraft.

Li said that the fourth carrier will be bigger and will have a better stealth performance. But he cannot confirm if the carrier will adopt an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) and aircraft landing technology that could be on par or could even outperform the US.

"I think we must have five to six aircraft carriers. It will take 20 to 30 years for the PLAN to deploy all of them and be able to conduct strike group operations," Li noted.

China has become one of the few countries that can build its aircraft carrier. Lan Yun, deputy editor of Modern Ships, believes that an active production line will help Beijing improve in terms of quality and master its shipbuilding skills.

"The lifespan of an aircraft carrier is about 50 years, and if we keep the pace of making one every five years, we can produce 10 in an updating cycle," he said.

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