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Fujian Type 003: China’s Most Capable Aircraft Carrier Has Been Launched

On June 17, 2022, the Fujian, or Type 003 aircraft carrier, was launched at the China State Shipbuilding Corporation shipyard in Shanghai.

Finally, China’s third domestic aircraft carrier has been launched. On June 17, 2022, the Fujian, or Type 003 aircraft carrier, was launched at the China State Shipbuilding Corporation shipyard in Shanghai where it has been under construction since 2018. This is China’s first aircraft carrier with an fully indigenous design, featuring a CATOBAR system and electromagnetic catapults.

The Fujian ship, with hull number 18, is expected to take another four to five years to have full combat capability. While China’s earlier aircraft carriers were conventionally powered and launched aircraft with ski jumps, the Type 003 is expected to use steam turbines and electromagnetic catapults.

When completed, the Fujian will be sized between the unfinished 85,000-ton Soviet aircraft carrier Ulyanovsk and the United States Navy’s 100,000-ton supercarriers. Earlier press reports and Chinese media generally suggested that the ship might have a displacement of around 80,000 tons to 85,000 tons. Later assessment backed by satellite images suggested the displacement was underestimated, and the Type 003 carrier might be closer in displacement to about 100,000 tons.

As seen in the images, the island superstructure on the Type 003 is more compact and neater than in the previous two carriers. The uncluttered island also features prominent flush apertures for electronically scanned array radar antennas and there will likely be other antennas added in the future, along with additional mission components.

The Type 003 has no bow ramp and instead marks the PLAN’s switch to catapult-assisted takeoff but arrested recovery, or CATOBAR, operations. CATOBAR will help launch fixed-wing aircraft with much heavier payloads of weapons and fuel. In addition, CATOBAR vessels can support a wider range of aircraft types, including heavier and slower non-fighter designs like the KJ-600 carrier radar plane now in development. Currently, only the United States and France operate carriers of this kind.

The carrier is expected to operate an air group of 40 fighter aircraft, plus propeller-powered transport and airborne early warning and control aircraft. While the new carrier has now been launched, the final phases of its construction are still underway and it’s unclear when it will be ready to start sea trials.

The launch of the Fujian is part of an ongoing effort to modernise the People’s Liberation Army Navy, which already has two fully-functioning aircraft carriers, the Soviet-era Liaoning and the domestically-built Shandong whose design was based on the Liaoning. The Fujian and a fourth carrier, which is also under construction, are larger and able to carry more aircraft than the two existing vessels.

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