As China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy continues to rapidly expand its carrier fleet, the country’s first fully indigenous aircraft carrier the Type 001 is set to undergo its second set of sea trials in the Bohai and Yellow Seas. The warship is heavily based on the Soviet Kuznetsov Class design, a relatively basic but large platform with a strong orientation towards defending territorial waters - thus lacking the advanced long range power projection capabilities of other ships. The new Chinese carrier nevertheless represents a considerable improvement over the Kuznetsov Class design, either the preexisting Chinese carrier Liaoling which itself had its origins as a Soviet Kuznetsov Class ship or the Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, with a control tower approximately 10 percent smaller, a new advanced Type 346 S-band AESA radar system, a slightly larger displacement and the ability to deploy elite J-15 fighters in greater numbers. The warships are also likely to deploy J-15D/J-17 electronic attack jets, and will field advanced air defence systems, including HQ-10 missile batteries and Type 1130 point defence systems, which will complement the surface to air missile networks of accompanying destroyers. The Type 001's induction represents a critical step towards building a large and sophisticated carrier fleet - one which is set to number nine active warships by 2025 from a single active vessel today.
While the Liaoning has widely been termed a training carrier, a platform designed primarily to acquaint the PLA Navy operating and maintaining such warships, the Type 001 represents a second major step towards developing a large and viable carrier fleet. Despite its superior capabilities to other Kuznetsov Class based warship designs, the Type 001 remains somewhat unsophisticated in its capabilities relative to the U.S. Navy’s supercarriers which regularly deploy to the East and South China Seas - lacking launch systems for its aircraft or critical force multiplying support systems such as AWACS aircraft. As a small defensive warship, their range and fighter complement is also considerably smaller - which while making the warships a small fraction of the cost to operate and maintain does leave them outmatched. The new design can nevertheless be seen as a key stepping stone towards developing more sophisticated carriers, with future platforms such as the Type 002 and Type 003 set to deploy more aircraft, more sophisticated systems, and match or possibly even surpass rival warships deployed to the Asia-Pacific region. The Type 001 is likely to be commissioned into service in late 2019 or early 2020, and its imminent induction has led the PLA Navy to begin recruiting pilots directly for its air wing rather than through the Air Force for the country’s fast growing carrier based fighter fleet. The aircraft is expected to be given an official designation in the near future, likely after one of the Chinese cities or provinces involved in its construction, and upon its induction it will arguably be the most capable warship of its kind in service anywhere in the world outside the United States Navy.