China’s Next Aircraft Carrier Could Be As Big As American Super-Carriers — Experts

China’s PLA Navy is implementing a massive modernization plan to counter the US Navy’s domination in the high seas and is desperately expanding its inventory with new aircraft carriers.

Satellite images show that the size of the upcoming Chinese aircraft carrier — the Type 003 — is almost the same as the US Navy’s latest Ford-class super-carriers.

In a new analysis, defense expert H.I. Sutton has revelated the massive size of PLA’s next aircraft carrier ( under construction). Unlike its predecessors, the latest aircraft carrier, or rather a ‘super-carrier’, would employ Catapult Assisted Take-Off and Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) configuration and would be significantly larger than its previous two carriers.

According to Sutton, the carrier’s flight deck is expected to be much larger. With its lower hull, the carrier could be of a similar size to the American supercarriers. While the ship may not be exactly as large as its American counterparts, it would be “close” until France builds its PANG carrier.

As per satellite images, its waterline length is estimated to be about 300 meters (985 feet). This is slightly less than the Ford-class’ 317 meters (1,040 feet) but longer than the previous carriers. China’s Type-001 Liaoning and Type-002 Shandong carriers are about 270 meters (885 feet) long at the waterline, he said.

The CATOBAR system would allow the Chinese warship to launch much larger and specialized aircraft such as its homegrown KJ-600 AEW — much like the American E-2D Advanced Hawkeye.

With this, the PLA Navy would be one of the only three navies to operate a fixed winger carrier-based Airborne Early Warning aircraft, while other navies operate helicopter-based versions.

The increased situational awareness offered by an AEW aircraft greatly enhances a carrier battle group’s operational capabilities.

Sutton also highlights the fact that this Chinese carrier would be conventionally powered, unlike the nuclear propulsion used in American carriers. But it should still have a more modern propulsion system than the Soviet-era steam turbines on the Liaoning and Shandong.

It is not clear as yet whether the carrier uses an advanced electric drive, known as integrated electric propulsion. The lack of nuclear propulsion may limit its operational range, which could be overcome by at-sea refueling ships that may accompany the carrier.

Nevertheless, some experts are of the view that this super-carrier would make the PLA Navy a formidable force vis-a-vis its regional rivals — mainly the Indian, Japanese, and South Korean navies. While the Indian Navy is looking forward to commission its second aircraft carrier INS Vikrant later by this year, Japan is planning to convert its helicopter docks into F-35 equipped aircraft carriers.

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