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China cuts planned aircraft carriers down to 4

China's Liaoning CV-16 in Hong Kong Waters. (Baycrest/Wikipedia)
December 12, 2019

China is reportedly ending plans for a six aircraft carrier fleet after the nation failed to overcome technical problems, and instead will continue with plans for four vessels.

“There is no plan to build more aircraft carriers,” a military source said, according to the South China Morning Post. “The third and fourth Chinese aircraft carriers on the agenda are both Type 002s, the country’s next generation warship equipped with electromagnetic catapults [for launching jets].”

The original plans were to have six aircraft carriers, with two of them being nuclear powered. The four China plans to have will be conventionally powered.

“China doesn’t possess the nuclear technology required, although it has developed many nuclear-powered submarines,” a source told the SCMP

Currently, China has just one active aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which is a refitted Soviet-era vessel. The country’s first homebuilt carrier, the Type 001, is slated to undergo sea trials after having technical setbacks.

Those technical challenges raised costs and put the brakes on developing the two nuclear aircraft carriers.

“[The engineers] have found some technical problems, and one of the key obstacles is in the development of a new generation of carrier-based fighter jets,” the source reportedly added. “These problems are not expected to be resolved in the near term.”

China also has three more former Soviet Union aircraft carriers and one from Australia, but those aren’t active and are being used only for study.

“China has accumulated more experience with the Liaoning and that has helped in the construction and operation of Type 001A,”  said Song Zhongping, a military commentator for Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television, according to the South China Morning Post.

Naval expert and retired People’s Liberation Army (PLA) destroyer naval officer, Wang Yunfei, previously stated the four carriers will work on the front line. Two to the north, two to the east and two to the south.

“China’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers with [EMALS-like systems] are expected to join the navy by 2035,” he said. “The country needs to keep developing until it is at the same level as the United States.”

The U.S. military has 20 active aircraft carriers, 11 are nuclear-powered and nine are capable of deploying carriers.

As China builds up its military in order to expand its global influence, the nation has also doubled its nuclear arsenal in the past decade and plans to double it again in the next, Rear Admiral Michael Brookes, director of intelligence for Stratcom, said in a press briefing in August.

“China has long had a no-first-use policy, and yet they’ve doubled their nuclear arsenal in about the last decade, and they’re on track to double it again in the next decade,” Brookes said.

“It’s a little bit concerning the breathtaking pace of change with regard to their arsenal,” he added.