Chinese PLAN For A Third Aircraft Carrier ‘Stuck In A Limbo’; Second Carrier Shandong Still Not Operational Ready

Given the severe lockdown measures in place in China’s economic powerhouse of Shanghai, the country’s defense sector may face the brunt of the delayed launch of China’s third aircraft carrier.

The coronavirus lockdown in Shanghai has hindered China’s shipbuilding ambitions and could delay the country’s third aircraft carrier’s launch, reported South China Morning Post (SCMP). The aircraft carrier was anticipated to be launched around the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) 73rd anniversary on April 23. 

The lockdown has caused delays in the shipping of some critical components, according to a source cited by the SCMP. The Type 003 aircraft carrier has been under construction at the Jiangnan Shipyard on Shanghai’s Changxing Island since 2017, with a launch date set for early this year.

Recent satellite images from Google Earth depict that the approximately 320-meter-long platform is nearly complete. The three catapults on the ship have been covered, suggesting that they are completed, but the two elevators that would hoist planes from the carrier’s hangars have not been fully installed. 

Recent satellite images show construction on the Type 003 has almost been completed. Photo: Google Earth
Recent satellite images show construction on Type 003 has almost been completed. Photo: Google Earth

Shanghai, which has the world’s largest container port, is facing a shipping backlog as it seeks to limit a weeks-long severe Covid-19 outbreak using a combination of lockdowns and mass testing, dubbed “dynamic zero-Covid.” 

According to a report, the Shanghai shipyard has been understaffed as a result of the requirement for practically all local state-owned firms to shift a specific amount of manpower to aid with the ongoing anti-pandemic drive. 

Since March 22, the China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) has been assisting in the battle against Covid-19, creating three temporary hospitals on Changxing Island with more than 4,400 beds in less than a week, the report said. The pandemic would also delay plans to build two naval supply ships.

The construction of the two naval supply ships would begin only after the aircraft carrier’s dockyard is vacant. The military was thought to be preparing a grandiose launch for the third aircraft carrier, similar to the one held in 2017 for the Shandong, China’s second aircraft carrier.

Additionally, the report stated that the new carrier will most probably be named the Jiangsu, keeping the protocol of naming boats after coastal provinces from north to south. CSSC is the world’s largest commercial shipbuilder, and the company stated last week that it will deliver almost a dozen huge tankers for storing liquefied natural gas this year. 

According to a study released in February by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the Shanghai shipyard is also constructing at least two huge cargo ships for Taiwan’s Evergreen Marine Corporation.

Fila Image: Chinese Type 003 Aircraft Carrier under construction at Jiangnan Shipyard (CSIS)

China’s Growing Naval Capabilities 

The Chinese Navy aspires to be as powerful as the US Navy. It is no secret that China desires a big fleet of aircraft carriers and a blue water navy capable of swiftly sailing into the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. 

China is on track to accomplish its aircraft carrier program’s goals and benchmarks. It presently has two carriers: the Liaoning and the Shandong. A third carrier is also being built by the PLAN.

However, the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, is currently the sole Chinese aircraft carrier with initial operating capability, or the basic level of combat preparedness. It began as a half-built Soviet Kuznetsov-class heavy aircraft-carrying missile cruiser purchased from Ukraine in 1998 and refitted for more than eight years. 

The Chinese have already demonstrated their ability to form carrier strike groups commanded by the Liaoning and deploy them into seas that may become battlegrounds in a naval battle with the US.  After patrolling in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and Western Pacific, a recent task force returned to China at the end of 2021.

Shandong carrier
China’s second aircraft carrier Shandong (Type-002), December 17, 2019.

There has been no official explanation offered as to why China’s second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, has still not attained combat-readiness status, SCMP reported.

The vessel’s structure was modeled on her sister ship, but its interior layout, armament systems, and training operations are more similar to that of the United States’ Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, which constitute a strike group with destroyers, frigates, attack submarines, and supply boats.

In contrast to the two previous aircraft carriers in the country, the Liaoning and the Shandong, Type 003 features a flat-top flight deck that will be outfitted with three powerful electromagnetic catapults, akin to the world’s most modern aircraft launch systems. The previous two have ski-jump launch ramps. 

All three are conventionally powered aircraft carriers. However, the country’s fourth carrier, on which work began last year, is expected to be propelled by nuclear reactors. China intends to develop at least four aircraft carrier strike groups by 2030 and challenge American dominance.