Analysis of satellite imagery of the Jiangnan Shipyard shows that China’s Type 003 aircraft carrier features aircraft-launching technology along the lines of the catapult system used by US carriers, a Washington-based think tank has said. It could be completed as early as February 2022.
The American Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said in a report published this week: “Based on available information and observed progress at Jiangnan, the authors estimate that the Type 003 will launch in roughly three to six months.”
The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is already the world’s largest naval force, with 355 ships and submarines.
The Type 003 will help Beijing exercise control over the Pacific by allowing China to launch a wider variety of planes – quicker and with more ammunition, experts say.
The US Department of Defense described Beijing’s navy as “an increasingly modern and flexible force” in its 2021 annual report to Congress on China’s military developments.
It highlighted China’s focus on phasing out “its previous generations of platforms”, the Liaoning and the Shandong, to implement “larger, modern multi-role combatants”.
Matthew Funaiole, senior fellow at the CSIS’s China Project, dubbed the Type 003 the Chinese military’s “first foray into a modern aircraft carrier.”
It shows the flight deck’s control tower island was ready, with radars and elevators expected to be added soon.
Two large openings in the deck that were until recently shut suggest engines have been inserted in the hull.
The Type 003 measures more than 300 metres and can fit several dozen planes, helicopters, and support aircraft.
Xi Jinping’s government commissioned it in late 2019 in a bid to catch up with the US — which has 11 vessels in service — in terms of naval power.
With the vessel soon able to slip into the Yangtze River, CSIS warned: “The dual-use nature of Chinese shipyards should raise significant red flags.
“Foreign companies would do well to consider whether their vessels should be built alongside Chinese warships—including the Type 003.”