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Asia-Pacific , Naval

Work Begins on China's Third Indigenous Aircraft Carrier

January 05th - 2018

Construction of the fourth aircraft carrier commissioned by China's People's Liberation Army Navy, the Type 003, has begun. The warship will be by far the largest in the country's fleet with a displacement similar to that of the U.S. Nimitz and Gerald Ford Class ships - approximately 100,000 tons. The carrier is set to rely far more on indigenous designs and technologies that its predecessors, with the Liaoling having been closely based on the Soviet Kuznetsov Class carriers and the Type 001 and Type 002 in turn both closely resembling the Liaoling. While the Type 001 and Type 002 are somewhat conservative in their designs, the Type 003 is set to look and perform entirely differently - and may well even operate different fighters from its deck. Though the Liaoling currently operates the advanced J-15 heavy fighters from its deck, and the Type 001 and Type 002 are set to do the same, the Type 003 will be able to operate significantly heavier and more capable platforms.

While the J-15 is a highly potent fighter, its range and payload are restricted by the ski jump launch system which limits the weight of fighters that the carrier can launch. The Type 003, set to be the world's second carrier to operate an advanced electromagnetic launch system, EMALS, will be able to launch significantly heavier and better armed fighters. This could lead to the launch of more capable J-15 fighters, or possibly even to the induction of fifth generation heavy platforms from its deck. There have been reports that the PLAN is considering a carrier based variant of the J-20 air superiority fighter, which could well lead to a truly lethal air wing being developed for the Type 003. This would make the Type 003 the only carrier in the world to operate carrier based air superiority fighters. If operating capable AWACS systems alongside a heavy fifth generation platform, the carrier air wing onboard the Type 003 would very likely be the most capable in the world in air to air combat.

As work begun on the Type 003, China's Navy also began a program to directly recruit new pilots for its carrier based fleet. While the Navy had previously relied on recruiting pilots from the Air Force, which it trained for carrier operations from the Liaoling, direct recruitment is a sign of the service growing and developing more independence in its operations. With the Type 001, the country's first indigenous carrier, set to enter service in early 2017 and with four carriers set to be in service by 2025, the Navy will need to recruit pilots at a higher rate than ever. The establishment of its own independent recruitment system would be invaluable means of doing so. While countries with minor Naval aviation capabilities recruit pilots through their air forces, the PLAN's move marks its emergence as a major naval aviation power. Combined with the construction of the world's only supercarrier outside the U.S. Navy, recent developments in the PLAN indicate its growing potential to replace the U.S. Navy as the leading naval power in the Asia-Pacific region.

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