China moving full speed ahead in construction of aircraft carriers

Satellite photos analyzed by IHS Janes show China has dramatically ramped up efforts to construct a second aircraft carrier—the first to be built indigenously there. While the new ship will likely not be a match for US aircraft carriers, it is important for a number of reasons, and representative of China’s ambitions to be a naval superpower. The ship is in “advanced state of construction” in a Dailan shipyard, according to analysis of commercial satellite images by IHS Jane’s. And China’s goal is reportedly to launch the new carrier by this December (in time for Mao Zedong’s 122nd birthday), and outfit it by the end of next year.

China’s plans to build new carriers have not exactly been a secret. Construction of the ship started in March, and was confirmed to be a carrier by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officials speaking to Hong Kong Commercial Daily. The new carrier, called the Type 001A, will include technology currently only used aboard US carriers, according to PLA Navy senior officers: an electromagnetic catapult that will allow aircraft to be launched with greater fuel and weapons loads. That would put China into a very exclusive club.

The Type 001A is likely the first of at least three new carriers that will be built by China. The PLA Navy’s existing carrier, the Liaonang—an extensive rebuild of a never-completed former Soviet carrier acquired from Ukraine—took sixteen years to obtain and rebuild. But during that time, China has acquired a wealth of data about how aircraft carriers work—purchasing other derelict carriers (including one from Australia) and technical data from other countries—including data likely stolen from US defense contractors. China’s military leaders have said that they believed they could now build a carrier in as little as two years.

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