China launched its third aircraft carrier – and the most advanced in its fleet – on Friday at the Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai, the state-run Xinhua news agency was quoted as saying by CNN. Named “Fujian”, the ship is the first aircraft carrier designed and built entirely in China, according to Xinhua.
Its assisted catapulting system is an important step ahead of the older launch system used on Liaoning and Shandong aircraft carriers, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.
The new catapult system, similar to those used by US aircraft carriers, will allow China to launch a wider range of Fujian aircraft, faster and with more ammunition.
Matthew Funaiole, a member of CSIS’s China Project, says the new ship is “an important step forward.”
“They are very determined to build an aircraft carrier program and continue to push it,” he added.
China names its aircraft carriers after the coastal provinces – Liaoning is in the northeast and Shandong is in the east. Fujian Province, in the southeast, is the closest to Taiwan, separated by a strait that is less than 130 kilometers wide at its narrowest point.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party claims sovereignty over Taiwan, despite never ruling it. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has repeatedly said that “reunification” between China and Taiwan is inevitable and has not ruled out the use of force.
China now has the largest naval force in the world, and aircraft carriers are the core of any great power’s fleet. Massive ships are essentially a mobile air base, enabling the rapid and long-term deployment of aircraft and armaments in a theater of battle.
China’s first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, was a Soviet-era unfinished ship that Beijing bought from Ukraine in 1998. It was upgraded and commissioned in 2012.
The Chinese military used the technological knowledge it gained from that ship to build a second aircraft carrier, Shandong, which entered service in December 2019.
Both Liaoning and Shandong relied on outdated Soviet technology. They used the classic launch system, in which planes simply took off from a light ramp, while American aircraft carriers use a more advanced catapult system to launch their aircraft.
Airplanes launched with catapults can reach the air faster and with larger amounts of fuel and ammunition, giving them an advantage over airplanes launched through the older system, which is based on its own take-off power.
However, despite the advanced launch system, Funaiole said there are signs that the Chinese aircraft carrier lags behind American aircraft carriers that have more catapults, a larger runway and more elevators to allow for faster deployment. aircraft.
All US aircraft carriers also have nuclear propulsion, while Fujian is believed to operate on conventional steam propulsion, which Funaiole said would limit its range.
“But it may be a less important factor for China right now, because many of its interests are in the near seas,” he said.
After launch, Fujian will have to be fully tested and equipped before it can be fit for operations and officially enter service.
The US Department of Defense initially estimated that the aircraft carrier would be ready for active service by 2023, but has now extended this deadline to 2024.
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