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China Launches The Most Modern Third Aircraft Carrier, Aiming For A Longer Range In The Indo-pacific

Story Highlights
  • According to experts, China's rapid construction of aircraft carriers has strategic implications for India as well.
  • The Liaoning, China's first aircraft carrier, was commissioned in 2012 after a renovation of a Soviet-era ship.

China launched its third aircraft carrier, the country’s most sophisticated, on Friday, as an assertive Beijing tried to extend the reach of its navy in the critical Indo-Pacific area, as well as possibly in the faraway Indian Ocean, where it has already established bases.

According to reports from Shanghai’s official media, the aircraft carrier Fujian was launched at a brief ceremony at the Jiangnan Shipyard.

According to the Xinhua news agency, the Fujian is China’s first domestically designed and manufactured catapult aircraft carrier. Due to the COVID lockdown in Shanghai, the launch was delayed by two months. It was supposed to be launched on April 23, around the time of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s 73rd anniversary (PLAN).

China State Shipbuilding Corporation Limited’s third aircraft carrier has a displacement of more than 80,000 tonnes and is equipped with electromagnetic catapults and arresting gear.

Fujian is the name given to China’s easternmost coastline province.

The Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, was a refit of a Soviet-era ship that was commissioned in 2012, followed by the Shandong, China’s first indigenously built aircraft carrier, in 2019. According to official Chinese media, China aims to have roughly five aircraft carriers. China is planning to develop a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier as its next project.

The Fujian was launched at a brief but joyful ceremony in which the vessel’s name certificate was presented to the top officer receiving the aircraft carrier. Officials then cut the ribbon for the third aircraft carrier’s launch, after which the mammoth vessel sailed away from the pier.

The Fujian has a level, straight flight deck and arresting device, and is the “first totally domestically created and manufactured” aircraft carrier with an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS). It has a full displacement of over 80,000 tonnes, which is more than 20,000 tonnes greater than the other two aircraft carriers.

EMALS was hailed by Indian naval experts as a significant step forward by the Chinese navy, as only the US now has such a sophisticated system. It uses less energy and requires less maintenance. It’s also used aboard the Gerald R. Ford-class carriers of the US Navy.

The Fujian has a flat-top flight deck, unlike China’s other two aircraft carriers, which have ski-jump take-off ramps.

The Type 003 battleship, which has the hull number 18, is China’s first carrier to use an electromagnetic catapult to launch planes from the deck, which is faster than the traditional steam catapult technology.

However, the J-15 aircraft that China presently uses for its aircraft carriers were viewed as a serious issue for the PLAN because each fighter weighed around 18 tonnes, making them too heavy for carriers in the long run. The planes were thought to represent a significant stumbling block.

The launch of Fujian, on the other hand, was supposed to give China additional latitude to operate in the South China Sea and Taiwan Straits, which are strategically important to China because it is pitted against regular US naval intrusions, including aircraft carriers.

According to experts, China’s rapid construction of aircraft carriers has strategic implications for India as well.

The launch of Fujian may allow PLAN to leave the region and travel to India’s backyard, the Indian Ocean, where the Indian Navy maintains a significant presence.

China’s naval port in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, has already been upgraded to accommodate aircraft carriers. In addition, China has acquired the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka as part of a 99-year debt swap. Pakistan’s Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea is also being modernised.

According to naval analysts, Fujian’s operationalization may take some time. By 2025, PLAN could be sending aircraft carriers to the Indian Ocean.

Since 2013, China has increased the growth of its navy with a big budget while reducing the number of army forces in a significant rejig of its military policy. As part of its efforts to enhance its global influence, the modernisation included the construction of several aircraft carriers, as well as submarines, frigates, and assault ships.

China, according to one estimate, is building nearly a naval ship every month. However, according to recent sources, the aircraft carriers’ rapid deployment is causing technical challenges and maintenance, delaying their operational preparedness.

Shandong, China’s second aircraft carrier, which was commissioned in 2019, has to undergo its first maintenance and detailed assessment in April.

The Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, was commissioned in 2012 after a renovation of a Soviet-era ship. It is the sole Chinese aircraft carrier with initial operating capability, or the baseline level of combat preparedness.

China’s naval buildup comes amid rising geopolitical tensions with the United States, which is attempting to improve connections with friends and partners in the Asia-Pacific area under President Joe Biden to offset Beijing’s expanding economic and military dominance.

Fujian, in the southeast, is the province closest to Taiwan, a self-governing island that China claims must be reunified with the mainland, even if it means force. For the time being, China’s aircraft carriers might give strategic heft in the disputed South China Sea, where the country is embroiled in territorial conflicts.

Many of the islands and reefs Beijing controls in the region have been militarised. Both locations are said to be rich in minerals, oil, and other natural resources, as well as being important for international trade.

Almost the whole South China Sea is claimed by China. Counter-claims have been made by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

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