What are the differences between China’s two aircraft carriers?

China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, is expected to start blue-water trials soon, according to state media and mainland military websites.

The 001A, which started preliminary trials in Dalian in the northeast of China in November after its launch on April 26, has a similar design to the country’s first carrier the Liaoning.

That ship started life as the Varyag, an unfinished Admiral Kuznetsov class carrier that China bought in 1998 from Ukraine – which inherited the ship after the break-up of the Soviet Union – and retrofitted.

The new vessel has been designed as a more modern variant on the Admiral Kuznetsov class ships – which means the two Chinese carriers have a similar appearance.

However, naval experts said the Chinese engineers and designers who built the ship had studied the most advanced military technology used by the Americans, as well as the former Soviet Union, and tried to incorporate this into the new ship to meet the practical needs of the PLA Navy.

Similarities:

Size – both are medium-size aircraft carriers with 60,000 to 65,000 tonnes of displacement.
Propulsion Systems – both use conventional propulsion.
Runway – both have a short runway with a ski-jump ramp.

Different roles:

The 001A has been designed to operate in a similar strategic role as US carriers – sailing with an escort of frigates, destroyers and other vessels as part of a battle group that can survey and attack targets on land, sea and air.

By contrast the Admiral Kuznetsov class ships were originally designed to serve as a “heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser” equipped with much more firepower than other carriers, including powerful anti-ship and surface-to-air cruise missile systems. They were designed to operate without an escort and were able to offer support to other warships.

Take-off ramps

The slope of the ski-jump ramp on the 001A is 12 degrees, compared with 14 degrees on the Liaoning. Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said the 12-degree ramp would help fighters shorten their take-off distance, save fuel and increase their weapons payload while strengthening the ship’s structure.

Space for more aircraft

China Central Television said the control tower island on the 001A deck has one more storey than the Liaoning.

However Li said the deck space occupied by the island had actually shrunk by 10 per cent to allow the deck to hold more helicopters and fixed-wing early-warning aircraft.

Li further noted that four weapons sponsons, or projections, had been removed from the aft deck, meaning there is space for more aircraft on deck.

The 001A will be able to house a maximum number of 35 J-15 fighter jets compared with the 24 carried on board the Liaoning, according to overseas military reports and retired Read Admiral Yin Zhuo.

More powerful weapons

Li said S-band radars with four large antennae would be installed on the top of control tower. The radar system is China’s most ­advanced and is capable of covering a 360-degree search field to scout dozens of targets in the air and at sea.

Another four HQ-10 short-range air defence missiles systems with 24 tubes would also be deployed on the new ship. This weapons system is also used by the navy’s most ­advanced Type 052D destroyers and Type 056 frigates.