Explained | China’s new high-tech aircraft carrier and the advanced catapult system it uses


China has launched its most modern aircraft carrier. Named the Fujian, the aircraft carrier is equipped with an advanced electromagnetic aircraft launch system. However, it is not known when it will enter service.

China has launched its most modern aircraft carrier. Named the Fujian, the aircraft carrier is equipped with an advanced electromagnetic aircraft launch system. However, it is not known when it will enter service.

The story so far: On June 17, China unveiled its first indigenous aircraft carrier, the Next Generation Fujian. Considered the most advanced aircraft carrier to date, it marks an important milestone for a nation seeking to expand its military power, particularly in the strategic Indo-Pacific region.

Fujian was named after the eastern coastal province of China that sits across from Taiwan. It was launched near Shanghai amid heightened tensions between China and the United States over Taiwan. With the launch of Fujian, China now has the largest number of aircraft carriers after the United States. Fujian joins two other aircraft carriers currently operated by China – Shandong (Type 001), commissioned in 2019, and Liaoning (Type 002), purchased second. -hand of Ukraine in 1998.

Fujian and its capabilities

Fujian was entirely designed and built domestically, according to China’s state broadcaster CCTV. Under construction since 2018, it was scheduled to launch on April 23 around the 73rd anniversary of the Navy or the People’s Liberation Army PLAN, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai. Fujian finally left her drydock after a festive ceremony attended by senior military officials on June 17. It was built by the China State Shipbuilding Corporation Limited.

Fujian’s displacement is 80,000 tons, far more than existing Chinese aircraft carriers, and comparable to US Navy aircraft carriers.

The Type 003 carrier is also much more technologically advanced than its Shandong and Liaoning predecessors. The Fujian was fitted with the latest launch technology – the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS), first developed by the US Navy. It also has a straight, flat-top cockpit for take-offs and landings; The two existing ships use a ski jump ramp.

Planet Labs PBC satellite image showing China's new Type 003 aircraft carrier.

Planet Labs PBC satellite image showing China’s new Type 003 aircraft carrier. | Photo credit: AP

What is EMALS: An aircraft on board an aircraft carrier needs additional help to take off because the length of the runway on the deck is insufficient to achieve the speed necessary for takeoff. One of the ways to provide that extra thrust is through the use of catapults. Catapult Assisted Take-off But Arrested Recovery or (CATOBAR) is one such system. In this, an airplane takes off from a completely flat deck using catapults. After the catapult is released, the aircraft attached to the catapult moves forward at high speed in a short time, which helps it gain the speed needed to take off before reaching the end of the runway.

There are two types of catapult systems – steam and electromagnetic called EMALS. While the former uses steam pressure to fire catapults, EMALS uses linear induction motors. The electromagnetic force generated is used to launch the aircraft.

Compared to steam-powered catapults, EMALS is more reliable, requires less maintenance, reloads faster, doesn’t take up much space on a stand, and is energy efficient. The electromagnetic system can launch a wide variety of aircraft weights and can be used on different platforms due to its flexible architecture. It also reduces stress on the aircraft during takeoff. However, the system is expensive. As of now, the US Navy’s USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carriers use the advanced catapult system.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Type 003 aircraft carrier will be able to launch fixed-wing aircraft with heavier payloads and more fuel through the use of EMALS.

Does India use EMALS? In 2017, the United States provided India with its EMALS technology, developed by the American defense company General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.

India explored the possibility of installing the system, but the navy scrapped the plan due to budget constraints, according to the Indian Defense Research Wing.

However, state-owned Bharat Electronics Limited in Bengaluru is reportedly working on an EMALS model which may be tested for CATOBAR operations on Indian warships in the near future.

Currently, India’s only carrier INS Vikramaditya operates on a short-but-arrested take-off recovery mechanism, or STOBAR with an angled ski jump. India’s second aircraft carrier named INS Vikrant, which is expected to come into service later this year, will use the CATOBAR system to launch aircraft.

Why the Fujian launch is important

Fujian is part of President Xi Jinping’s military modernization plan. The Chinese president has pledged to build a modern force capable of rivaling the US military by 2027 and becoming a “blue water” navy, a navy that operates globally.

Collin Koh, a researcher at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said AFP this Fujian’s launch could be a game-changer for China. “The conventional flight deck with (electromagnetic catapults) will at least, in theory, allow the carrier to launch aircraft faster and with heavier payloads – which are key deciding factors during battle,” a- he declared.

“This is an important milestone for China’s military-industrial complex,” an analyst from a defense intelligence firm said, quoted by Associated press. “It shows that Chinese engineers are now capable of locally manufacturing the full suite of surface combatants associated with modern naval warfare, including corvettes, frigates, destroyers, amphibious assault ships and now an aircraft carrier. “said Ridzwan Rahmat.

The launch also holds significance given that China is embroiled in territorial disputes in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea – two areas vital to global trade. China has claimed nearly all of the South China Sea and deployed naval assets as a show of power in the strait that separates Taiwan from the Chinese mainland. With Fujian, China will likely get more space to operate in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait where it is opposed to US aircraft carriers.

The Indian Navy has a significant presence in the Indian Ocean, but Fujian’s capabilities provide China with leeway to move into India’s backyard, where it is increasing its presence. It should be noted that China has already acquired the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka in exchange for debts, is modernizing the Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea and has expanded its naval base in Djibouti, a strategically important country in the Horn. of Africa.

However, even as China expands its military strength, the United States remains far ahead. Currently, the United States is the world leader in aircraft carriers, with 11 nuclear-powered ships, followed by China, Britain and Italy. The US Navy is expected to reach 420 ships by 2025 and reach 460 by 2030. PLAN, meanwhile, currently has 355 ships, including submarines.

What future for the aircraft carrier?

Now that the Fujian is in the water, she will be fitted with equipment, which could take two to six months. This will be followed by trials for another six months. Once testing is complete, engineers will launch test loads using the catapult system. Although authorities have not announced a date, experts say the first plane could take off from Fujian by the end of 2023 and full operational capability should be declared around 2025.

(With contributions from the agency)


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