China’s carrier development program is part of a massive, comprehensive overhaul of the People’s Liberation Army under President Xi Jinping, who has vowed to build a “fully modern” force to rival the US Military by 2027.
The new carrier, named Fujian, is the “first catapult aircraft carrier wholly designed and built by China,” said state broadcaster CCTV.
Columns of sailors in white uniforms applauded under colourful clouds of smoke as jets of water arced over the gigantic vessel to mark its launch. Colourful streamers hung from its flight deck, on which large banners read: “Strive for the comprehensive construction of a… first-class navy.”
The launch of the carrier marks a major military milestone for the Chinese Communist Party. It has significantly more advanced technology than China’s two other carriers, including electromagnetic catapults to launch aircraft off its deck, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The two other Chinese aircraft carriers — the Liaoning and the Shandong — use a ski-jump-style ramp for takeoffs. With a displacement of more than 80,000 tonnes, according to Xinhua, it is comparable in size to the US NAVY supercarriers, analysts said.
Collin Koh, a research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said the new carrier could be a “game changer” for the Chinese Navy.
“The conventional flight deck (with electromagnetic catapults) will at least in theory allow the carrier to launch aircraft faster and with heavier payloads — which could constitute key deciding factors during actual battle,” he told AFP.
“At a strategic level, the new carrier heralds the coming of age of a blue-water PLA Navy.” Blue-water navies are able to operate around the world at vast ranges.
It will still take years before the Fujian becomes fully operational. Authorities have not yet said when it will fully enter service. The Liaoning was commissioned in 2012, and the Shandong entered service in 2019. The Shandong was the first aircraft carrier entirely built by China.
According to defense magazine Janes, the United States has by far the most aircraft carriers in service with 11 carriers, followed by China and Britain with two each.
Unlike the US Navy’s nuclear-powered super carriers, the Fujian will rely on conventional turbine propulsion. Nuclear vessels have significant advantages over conventional ships as they can remain at sea & operate for longer periods of time without the need to dock and refuel.
The launch of the Fujian comes at a time of ramped-up geopolitical tensions as Washington looks to shore up military alliances in the Asia-Pacific region.
Last year, the United States & the UK secured a historic deal to share nuclear submarine technology with Australia. The United States has since also made multiple arms sales to autonomous Taiwan, provoking angry responses from Beijing.
Meanwhile, China brokered an unprecedented security agreement with the Solomon Islands earlier this year which blindsided Washington and US allies, stoking renewed concerns about a Chinese military base in the Pacific.
Beijing has recently deployed naval assets as a show of power in the strait that separates Taiwan from the Chinese mainland. It has also deployed fighter jets to repel freedom of navigation patrols made by the United States and its allies.
Last week, Chinese defense minister Wei Fenghe warned his US counterpart that Beijing would “not hesitate to start a war, no matter the cost” if Taiwan declared independence. State media reported that the PLA’s newest aircraft carrier is named after China’s Fujian province — which lies directly across from Taiwan.✪