China launches its largest aircraft carrier, sending message to the US

China on Friday launched its third aircraft carrier, the first such ship to be both designed and built entirely within the country

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Friday, June 17, 2022, 12:34 PM IST
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The Type 003 carrier, christened Fujian, left its drydock at a shipyard outside Shanghai on Friday morning | Twitter/@INTELPSF

China has launched its largest and most impressive aircraft carrier to date. The Type-003 carrier rivals U.S. Navy carriers in size, the first non-American carrier to do so.

The Type 003 carrier, christened Fujian, left its drydock at a shipyard outside Shanghai in the morning and tied up at a nearby pier, state media reports said.

State broadcaster CCTV showed assembled navy personnel standing beneath the massive ship as water jets sprayed over its deck and multi-colored streamers flew and colorful smoke was released.

Equipped with the latest weaponry and aircraft-launch technology, the Type 003 ship’s capabilities are thought to rival those of Western carriers, as Beijing seeks to turn its navy, already the world’s largest, into a multi-carrier force.

10 years after China commissioned its first aircraft carrier, the Type-003 Fujian will further expand and mature the Chinese Navy’s capabilities. It is part of a shift to a true blue water navy, operating in the Pacific and, if called upon, globally.

The Fujian is China’s first fully domestically developed aircraft carrier, and uses electromagnetic catapults and arresting devices to enable planes to take off and land on its deck, it added. The ship has a displacement of more than 80,000 tons, it added.

China’s first carrier was a repurposed Soviet ship, and its second was built in China but based upon a Soviet design. Both were built to employ a so-called “ski-jump” launch method for aircraft, with a ramp at the end of the short runway to help planes take off.

The Type 003 employs a catapult launch, thought to be an electromagnetic-type system like one originally developed by the U.S. Navy.

Such a system puts less stress on the aircraft than older steam-type catapult launch systems, and the use of a catapult means that the ship will be able to launch a broader variety of aircraft, which is necessary for China to be able to project naval power at a greater range.

Tensions build in Asia

China's ruling Communist Party claims sovereignty over the self-ruling democracy of Taiwan, despite having never governed it. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has repeatedly said that "reunification" between China and Taiwan is inevitable and refused to rule out the use of force.

China now wields the largest naval force in the world, and aircraft carriers are the core vessels of any major power's fleet. The massive ships are essentially a mobile airbase, allowing for the rapid, long-term deployment of aircraft and weaponry to a combat theater.

China's naval buildup comes amid growing geopolitical tensions with the US, which under President Joe Biden is seeking to strengthen ties with allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region to counter Beijing's growing economic influence and military might.

Last year, Beijing bristled at a security pact between the US, the UK and Australia named AUKUS, an agreement by which the three nations would exchange military information and technology to form a closer defense partnership in Asia. The naval exercises attended by members of the resuscitated informal dialogue between the US, Japan, Australia and India, known as the Quad, has further unsettled Beijing.

China's growing naval might

The Type-003 carrier will be the latest and best carrier in Chinese service. It is expected to carry the latest J-35 fighter, China’s answer to the F-35C Lightning-II. The J-35 is a twin engine aircraft however, a characteristic traditionally favored for naval operations.

China’s People Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, has been modernizing for more than a decade to become more of a “blue water” force — one capable of operating globally rather than being restricted to remaining closer to the Chinese mainland.

The PLAN currently has some 355 ships, including submarines, and the U.S. estimates the force will grow to 420 ships by 2025 and 460 ships by 2030. Despite having the world’s largest navy numerically, however, the PLAN still has nowhere the near capabilities of the U.S. Navy for now, however, and remains far behind in carriers.

(with inputs from agencies)

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