The third aircraft carrier for China’s People’s liberation Army Navy is believed to be nearing its launch.
The Type 003 carrier has been observed by open-source intelligence (OSINT) analysts using commercial satellite imagery in recent weeks. They claim the dry dock in which the vessel is being built in the Jiangnan Shipyard north of Shanghai has recently been cleared of equipment, and work on the deck and island of the vessel is winding down.
Update: Reports on 15 June indicate the dry dock has been flooded, and that celebratory flags and decoration have been displayed on the carrier, indication a launch was imminent.
Nearly as large as a US Navy Nimitz class carrier, the Type 003 will have three catapults – two on the bow and one on the waist – instead of the bow ramp ’ski jump’ used by China’s first two carriers, the CV-16 Liaoning and CV-17 Shandong.
The 60,000 tonne Liaoning was rebuilt from the hulk of an incomplete Soviet-era Kuznetsov class carrier and commissioned in 2012. At 66,000 tonnes the Shandong is a similar but slightly larger version of the Liaoning, and was commissioned in 2019. The as-yet-unnamed Type 003 is expected to displace more than 80,000 tonnes and is a completely new indigenous design.
The US’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank says the launch of the Type 003 will be a “seminal moment in China’s ongoing modernisation efforts and a symbol of the country’s growing military might”.
The Type 003 is expected to operate about 55 aircraft, including Shenyang J-15 fighters, and Kamov Ka-31 anti-submarine, Changhe Z-18 transport, and Harbin Z-9 attack helicopters. Also under development is a new low-observable J-31 fighter, and the KJ-600 AEW&C aircraft.