China is making progress on its first indigenous aircraft carrier, the Shandong.
After two years and nine months of construction, China’s first domestically-built aircraft carrier is “taking shape.” The ship is under construction at a shipyard in Dalian, where the superstructure has already been mounted onto the hull. The vessel is expected to be launched this year; however, it will probably be a few more years before the ship enters military service.
The eventual deployment of the Shandong will advance China’s plans to field a blue-water navy to defend its interests.
The Shandong, previously known as Type 001A, will be China’s second carrier after the Liaoning — a Soviet-era heavy aircraft carrying cruiser that was purchased in the 1990s, brought to China, and refurbished.
The Liaoning, a Kuznetsov-class carrier, was declared combat ready and “prepared for war” in November. The next month, the carrier set sail on a regional tour. The carrier battle group led by the Liaoning carried out combat drills in the Bohai Sea, the Western Pacific, and the South China Sea.
The Liaoning concluded its voyage by sailing through the Taiwan Strait.
The ship carried over a dozen Shenyang J-15 Flying Sharks, a few Harbin Z-9 and Changhe Z-18 helicopters, and a couple Z-18J airborne early warning helicopters.
The Shandong is expected to resemble the Liaoning.
“The new carrier is broadly similar to the Liaoning and retains the ski jump for launching aircraft, but contains a revised flight deck arrangement,” reports Defense News. Like its predecessor, the Shandong will reportedly use the Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) system, which will limit the types of aircraft the ship can carry. For instance, the Shandong will likely only be able to carry fixed-wing fighters, as the ship’s design is not suited to supporting heavier propeller-driven aircraft, such as early warning and control planes.
China is developing steam-powered catapults for assisted launch; however, it ultimately aspires to develop advanced Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) technology, like that being installed in elite U.S. carriers.
New reports indicate that the Shandong will eventually be deployed in the South China Sea.
“It will be used to tackle the complicated situations in the South China Sea,” reports the South China Morning Post, citing a report provided by Xiake Dao, a People’s Daily affiliate.
Such a deployment would be consistent with Chinese aspirations to strengthen the country’s military presence in the highly-contested region, but it is too early to know for certain where the Shandong will operate.
China has also said it would like to send aircraft carriers into the Eastern Pacific.
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