China Will Soon Have 3 Aircraft Carriers (With More to Come)

David Axe

Key point: Beijing is eager to tip the Pacific naval balance in its favor.

The growing Chinese aircraft carrier fleet passed several important milestones in recent months.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy operates or is building three flattops. Writing at The Diplomat, Rick Joe provided an update on each.

CV-16 Liaoning is a former Ukrainian vessel that China rebuilt and commissioned in 2011. The 60,000-ton-displacement vessel launches its J-15 fighters by way of a bow ramp.

“CV-16 returned to Dalian shipyard in mid 2018 for maintenance and refit, where the island structure was altered and presumably additional upgrades were made internally,” Joe wrote.

After its refit, Liaoning participated in the PLAN 70th anniversary naval review [in April 2019].

And more recently, Liaoning and an escort force including a 901 comprehensive resupply ship passed through the first island chain into the western Pacific, presumably for a training deployment.

It will likely be another few years yet until Liaoning will have to return to a shipyard for a major overhaul.

Meanwhile, Liaoning’s sister vessel, the Type 002 Shandong, is nearing completion. “Construction of aircraft carrier 002 at Dalian shipyard was first photographically confirmed in early 2015,” Joe wrote.

The ship was launched in April 2017, and began sea trials one year later in April 2018. Recent pictures of 002 from May this year have revealed tire marks on the landing strip, indicating that aviation trials with fixed-wing aircraft (J-15s) have begun. Carrier 002 is expected to be commissioned by the end of 2019.

002 is a ski jump-equipped carrier derived from the design of CV-16 Liaoning. The ship enjoys various modifications from Liaoning, such as a significantly redesigned island and overall smaller island footprint, as well as redesigned, larger weapons elevators.

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