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China launching third aircraft carrier within days: report

China's new Type 001A aircraft carrier docked in August 2017. (GG001213/Wikimedia Commons)
June 01, 2022

The shipyard in Shanghai where China has been building its third aircraft carrier appears to be wrapping up its work and, according to a military insider who spoke with the South China Morning Post on Wednesday, it will launch in a matter of days.

The military insider, who is familiar with China’s aircraft carrier projects, said the launch of China’s Type 003 carrier, from its Jiangnan shipyard on Shanghai’s Changxing Island, will coincide with China’s Dragon Boat Festival on Friday, June 3.

“The aircraft carrier needs to go into sea trials as soon as possible – it may take several years to achieve initial operational capability,” the military insider said.

Other preparations at the Jiangnan shipyard also suggest the Type 003 carrier will move soon.

Last week, China’s Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) ordered the berths at the No. 3 and No. 4 docks at the Jiangnan shipyard on Shanghai’s Changxing Island to be cleared for an upcoming operation on Monday. These docks are part of the area where shipbuilders have been working on China’s Type 003 aircraft carrier.

Monday’s operation near the No. 3 and No. 4 docks will last from 5:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. local time and will employ five platforms, three tugboats and two salvage ships.

Naval experts who spoke with the South China Morning Post said the MSA’s orders and arrangements are consistent with preparations to launch a new ship.

Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at the Taiwanese Naval Academy, told the South China Morning Post that the Jiangnan shipyard has placed a large ship segment in front the docks where work on the Type 003 is ongoing “so that passing commercial ships couldn’t see the construction progress.”

“That segment will have to be moved so that they can launch the Type 003 by sliding it into the water,” Lu said.

Lu said once the ship launches into the water, it will next undergo tests and equipment installations based on its sea trials performance.

The likely launch of China’s third aircraft carrier comes about five years its second carrier, the Type 002 Shandong launched in April of 2017. The Shandong completed its sea trials in April of 2018 and was commissioned in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in December of 2019.

Some observers had previously speculated the Type 003 would launch on April 23, to coincide with the 73rd anniversary of the PLAN. Anticipation for that April launch date fell as an outbreak of COVID-19 hit Shanghai.

Observers believe Friday is a strong likely day for launching the Type 003 carrier because it coincides with the Dragon Boat Festival. The festival is a traditional Chinese holiday to promote good luck in the otherwise unlucky fifth month in the Chinese calendar. One tradition during the festival is to hold a paddleboat race, with boats constructed to look like dragons.

Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said this Friday would be a “good day for the birth of the ‘third child,’” referring to the warship’s nickname on Chinese social media.

“It implies the vessel is the country’s dragon boat – a good blessing,” he said.

The Type 003 is expected to be China’s most advanced carrier to date and will include electromagnetic catapults to launch its aircraft, as opposed to the ski-ramp system on its first two carriers. The catapult launch method allows carrier-borne aircraft to launch with larger payloads of fuel and weapons, allowing them extended strike range.

China currently has the largest naval force in the world, but the U.S. Navy still has more aircraft carriers. The U.S. Navy currently operates 11 full-sized aircraft carriers and nine more Wasp and America class amphibious assault ships that can carry helicopters and short-take-off fighter jets like the AV-8B Harrier II and F-35B Lighting II.