The PLAN is quickly becoming a blue water naval force.
The National Interest
Date: September 7, 2019
By: Kyle Mizokami
With all of this shipbuilding capacity (and shipbuilding jobs on the line) the obvious question is what the shipyards will build next. Submarine construction is one possibility, as well as smaller amphibious craft, particularly LSTs capable of carrying a dozen or so tanks and armored vehicles. China’s military opacity means outside observers just don’t know. Whatever the ultimate goal, China is already a major military power in the Asia-Pacific.
The breakneck pace of Chinese naval construction makes the People’s Liberation Army Navy a force to watch. The PLAN is not only in the process of modernizing but also expanding, with shipbuilding schedules not seen since the height of the Cold War. From carriers to corvettes, the Chinese Navy is expanding faster than any other navy on the planet. As a result, it’s often useful to check in and see the current state of the navy, and wonder what it’s all meant for.
China’s aircraft carrier program marches on, with two carriers completed and a third ship under construction. In 2017 the first carrier Liaoning, as the Pentagon’s recently released 2018 China Military Power Report (PDF) noted, made two high profile voyages to Hainan Island and Hong Kong. That having been said, despite being in operation for more than three years it has yet to travel to a foreign country.
At the same time China’s second carrier, the unnamed Type 002 ship, is currently portside at Dalian and undergoing shore-based systems testing. Type 002 is very similar both dimensionally and in outer appearance to Liaoning, retaining conventional propulsion and a ski-jump for assisted takeoffs. The ship differs in having minor changes to the superstructure, including new advanced electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, and can carry twenty-four to thirty J-15 fighters—slightly more than Liaoning.
Meanwhile, China’s third carrier, the also-unnamed Type 003, is under construction at Shanghai’s Jiangnan Shipyard. Unlike the Type 002 ship the shipyard is building the 003 in modules (known as “superlifts” in American shipyards) to be assembled in drydock, just like the U.S. Navy’s supercarriers. Construction won’t be the only thing 003 shares with her American counterparts—the ship will reportedly be the first Chinese surface ship to rely on nuclear propulsion, and will use either steam or electromagnetic catapults to launch aircraft. [FULL STORY]