November 27, 2018 – The WeChat account of a Chinese official media recently published an article commemorating the first successful landing of the J-15 carrier-based aircraft on the Liaoning aircraft carrier. The article says: “the construction of the new aircraft carrier is in progress on the berth”. This statement has been widely interpreted as “the official confirmation that China is building a third aircraft carrier.” However, the Chinese military has yet to make any official comment.
The UK’s Dailymail.co.uk reported on November 26 that although the article did not elaborate on the program of the “new-generation carrier”, it could well be the country’s third aircraft carrier.
It is noticeable that there are so much domestic and overseas media hype on “China is building a third aircraft carrier” since the beginning of this year.
In January, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post and the US Popular Mechanics both reported China started the construction of the third aircraft carrier. At the end of May, another foreign media said that China’s third aircraft carrier is under construction.
However, the Chinese military is yet to confirm these claims.
Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang, spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense (MND) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), said at MND’s regular press conference in May that the long-term development of China’s aircraft carriers will take into account not only the country’s economic and social development, but also the needs of national defense and military construction.
One of the key speculations is which technology will be adopted for China’s latest aircraft carrier. According to Popular Mechanics magazine, China’s third aircraft carrier is expected to tip the scales at about 80,000 tons. It is longer than the Liaoning aircraft carrier, and will be employed with the electromagnetic aircraft launching system (EMALS).
In February this year, state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) published its strategic outline on its website that it plans to “accelerate the process of making technological breakthroughs in nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, new-type nuclear submarines, quiet submarines, maritime unmanned intelligent confrontation systems, maritime three-dimensional offensive and defensive systems and naval warfare comprehensive electronic information system, which will provide high-quality weapons and equipment for the Chinese navy’s strategic transformation to a blue sea navy in 2025.”
Zhu Yingfu, the chief designer of the Chinese Liaoning aircraft carrier, said in a keynote speech at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, Chengdu (UESTC) that China’s research on steam catapults and EMALS are both in progress.
Zhu also expressed his preference over the more advanced EMALS technology. Once these technologies achieve a high level of maturity, they can be applied to the future construction of aircraft carriers.
“And also nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, we must have it in the future. I believe China will soon catch up with the world and I hope everyone can wait patiently,” said Zhu.
When asked how many aircraft carriers does the Chinese Navy require, Zhu replied that China may not need as many as the US, but at least there should be three ships. Four or five would be better if possible, said Zhu.