Chinese PLAN Chinese Popular Liberation Army Navy (2017)

Li Gang/Xinhua via AP

The Chinese Navy goes one step higher for naval dominance

Flash News !
That’s not everyday a new aircraft carrier is launched. Symbol of the times, it’s Chinese. Still unnamed, it was built at Dalian. The PLAN (Popular Liberation Army Navy) is already, since a few years, rated as the world’s third largest. Supreme symbol of a superpower’s strength and projection power, the aircraft carrier is at the highest level of any naval hierarchy. Subject of pride, the new Chinese aircraft carrier will back the 20-years old Liaoning. So what’s about this new kid in the block ? She joins the many other Asian aircraft carriers in service, showing the obvious Asian naval race and growing regional tensions of the last decade.

001A
China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier is launched at a shipyard in the northeastern port city of Dalian on April 26, 2017. (Kyodo)

The 001A in brief

Form most analysts that could follow the ship’s construction at Dalian, this is undoubtedly a clone of the Russian Kuznetsov class carrier, a glorified, modernized copy. There was a model of it already available, as the Liaoning. First launched in the USSR as the Varyag, her transfer story alone was amazing. Once achieved at Dalian, the new aircraft carrier became the first ever featured by PLAN, and has since be at the forefront of massive naval force projection, especially in highly strategic contested areas in the Southern China Sea.

There was no doubt that a second one was needed if China wanted a permanent presence at sea as the center of a task force. That’s the same issue also seeked by Japan, Russia, France and the United Kingdom, the United States still largely ahead with 10 aircraft carriers, included two permanently deployed in Asia, the USS Carl Vinson being recently involved in intimidation maneuvers nearby the North Korean territorial waters.

Varyag
The Varyag, then towed off Istambul, future Liaoning.

The new, still unnamed aircraft carrier (possibly called “Shandong” according to the province she was built in or even “Mao Zedong?”), is about the same size and width than the Liaoning, same characteristic superstructure inherited from the Soviet-era hybrid missile cruiser/aircraft carriers. Contrary to the 1970s Kiev class, the Kuznetsov class (now three ships indirectly with this last one) bears more resemblance with modern aircraft carriers, having comparatively a much larger deck, more catapults, and a much larger hangar, for a capacity of around 50 aircraft, including SU-33 fighter-bombers, largely more effective than the STOVL jets carried in what was a glorified cruiser/helicopter carrier.

Shenyang J-15 fighter
Shenyang J-15 fighter

Z9 SAR helicopter
Z9 SAR helicopter

It should be added that the Liaoning mostly performed training missions from 2012, and the PLAN had before that in 1985 purchased the HMAS Melbourne. The carrier was sold to the China United Shipbuilding Company for A$1.4 million, in order to be broken up, but was comprehensively studied and possibly in part reverse-engineered, as part of the top secret carrier development program. The Minsk and Kiev were also purchased and studied.

Development of the 001A

According to state media service Xinhua, initial work on the new ship began in November 2013, and the hull was in drydock by 2015. So a launch in 2017 is relatively quick, although the ship is way off completion, which could occur around 2020. The hull was largely finished by May 2016, the launch taking place in a great burst of mediatic pride on 25 April 2017. The new ship still has to go through fitting out and sea trials before making into service with PLAN. At that time, China would be the only naval power outside the USA to have two “true” aircraft carriers at sea simultaneously, a clear-cut rise in capabilities.


Inauguration at Dalian Shipyard 25, April, 2017

Armament and capabilities

Although little is known yet, the new Chinese aircraft carrier is estimated to carry 30 to 40 aircrafts of all types, including the possibility of a complement slightly larger than the Liaoning: Currently 24 Shenyang J-15 fighters (copy of Russian SU-33), six Changhe Z-18F ASW helicopters, four Changhe Z-18J airborne early warning helicopters (Glorified Super Frelon copy) and two Harbin Z-9C rescue helicopters (copy of the AS365 Dolphin).

According to CSIS, the control tower is approximately 10 percent smaller than that of the Liaoning, and displacement is also a few thousand more, around 8 additional aircraft and optimized internal arrangement.

001A island
001A island

As defined the ship still is given extra large proper missile capabilities, KJ-88, YJ-83K, and YJ-91 missiles. This means if the escort would be destroyed, the ship still retains a medium-range strike capability well-beyond those of Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, that relies primary on their own air force. In addition the 001A came with improved radar Type 346 S-band AESA system, and increased storage capacity for ammunition and fuel.


Japanese Izumo “helicopter destroyer”. The latter can deploy about 28 helicopters but also V22 Osprey and F-35A

Other Aircraft Carriers in Asia

China’s blue water navy ambitious programme only is getting started. After the CV16 (Liaoning), CV17 (001A), the CV19 (Type 002, est.2021) and CV20 (Type 003, est.2026?) are already listed, both CATOBAR (standard flat deck take-off). With four task forces, the PLAN would have the potential of ruling the whole pacific ocean, in addition to the nearby Indian ocean, Korea and China seas. Indeed, the US Fleet can deploy only the same number, roughly, of task forces in this sector at a time in peace time.
But that’s with the inaction of traditional, and rising regional naval powers:
Japan: 2 very large Izumo-class and 2 Hyūga-class “helicopter destroyers”
India: INS Vikramaditya, a former Soviet era Kiev hybrid cruiser/aircraft carrier
Thailand: Chakri Naruebet midget aircraft carrier (Spanish-built)
Australia: Canberra class assault aircraft carriers (Spanish built)

Specifications

These are subject of changes and evolution, based on the latest available informations

001A specifications

Dimensions (est.) 300 x76 x9 m
Displacement 50,000/70,000 t FL
Crew 2500+
Propulsion 4 propellers, 4 Steam turbines, 200,000 hp
Speed 32 knots (59 km/h; 37 mph)
Range 4,000 nautical miles
Armament 40 aircraft, see notes

Naval Encyclopedia plans about PLAN

The Chinese Navy is interesting strategically, and a very “hot” topic. So it will led in the near future to a complete, exhaustive and upgraded review of modern Chinese naval assets, including naval air force capabilities.

Links/Sources

thedrive.com/
Forbes – Comparison infographics with USS G. Ford
About the 001A aircraft carrier (wikipedia)
About the Liaoning
CSIS

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