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People's Liberation Army

No advanced jet launch system for China’s third aircraft carrier, experts say

The PLA will use conventional steam catapults to launch aircraft on its second domestically made flat-top, military specialists say

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 February, 2017, 7:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 6:01pm

China will not adopt highly ­advanced electromagnetic take-off technology on its second ­domestically built aircraft carrier but instead rely on a conventional system, naval experts say.

TheType 002 vessel the country’s third aircraft carrier after the Liaoning and the Type 001A carrier under construction in Dalian – would be equipped with at least three conventional steam launch catapults, a source close to the navy told the South China Morning Post.

But it would be the first ­Chinese aircraft carrier to use this type of launch system.

“There are still some technical problems applying nuclear ­propulsion to the carrier platform, so the Type 002 will still use steam catapults,” the source said.

“But this is still a breakthrough compared with Liaoning and the Type 001A carrier, both of which are equipped with ski-jump ramps.

“It will [also] take a couple of years for the newest carrier to enter full service after its launch, as it takes two or three years to train carrier-based pilots.”

Professor Jin Yinan, a former director of the strategic research institute at the People’s Liberation Army National Defence University, said in December that construction of the Type 002 started at the Jiangnan Changxingdao shipyard in Shanghai in March 2015.

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Hong Kong-based military ­expert Liang Guoliang said China planned to produce two Type 002 carriers, each with a displacement of 85,000 tonnes, which would make them the biggest Chinese carriers. The Liaoning is about 55,000 tonnes while the Type 001A will be 70,000 tonnes.

The first Type 002 carrier was expected to be launched in about 2021, Liang added.

There had been speculation that the Type 002 could be a ­nuclear-powered vessel with an electromagnetic take-off system.

But Li Jie, a Beijing-based military expert, said it would be impossible to develop a completely new generation carrier in just a few years.

“Different systems need different technology, technicians and pilots,” Li said.

“For example, the Type 001A is scheduled to be launched later this year, but it will take several more years to develop as part of a real battle group before entering full service in the navy.”

Meanwhile, Andrei Chang, founder of military magazine Kanwa Asian ­Defence, said the Type 001A was “purely a copycat” of the Varyag, which was laid down as a Kuznetsov-class carrier for the Soviet navy in the 1970s, before it was sold to China and ­refurbished as the Liaoning.

Li said that while the appearance of the Type 001A may be ­similar to the Liaoning, its layout, interior equipment and overall operational concept would be more advanced than the ­Liaoning.

Li said one difference was the Type 001’s take-off ramp slope of 12 degrees, compared with 14 ­degrees for the Liaoning.

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The 12-degree ramp would help fighters shorten their take-off distance, save fuel and increase their weapons payload while strengthening the ship’s structure,Li said.

“There are different operational concepts between the Liaoning and Type 001A,” he said.

“Based on the Varyag design, the Liaoning was designedwith both weapons systems and aircraft in an equally important layout, but the Type 001A has learned from US carriers to focus on how to make aircraft on board more functional.”

According to Li, certain weapons were excluded from the Type 001A platform to allow more carrier-based J-15 parking. The hanger was also being expanded to allow the new carrier to carry between six and eight more J-15 fighter jets than the Liaoning.

“The control tower island on the deck was shrunk 10 per cent, which allow the deck to dock more helicopters and fixed-wing early-warning aircraft,” he said, adding that four weapons sponsons, or projections, on the aft deck had been dismantled.

S-band radars with four large antennae would be installed on the top of control tower, he said.

The system is China’s most ­advanced and is capable of covering a 360-degree search field to scout dozens of targets in the air and at sea.

Four HQ-10 short-range air defence missiles systems with 24 tubes would also deployed on the new ship, Li said.

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This weapons system is also mounted on the navy’s most ­advanced Type 052D destroyers and Type 056 frigates.

However, Macau-based military observerAntony Wong Dong said the country’s limited production capacity for carrier-based J-15s might hinder the 001A entering full service on schedule.

“The Liaoning was designed to carry up to one aviation regiment, or 24 carrier-based fighters.

“But the vessel so far has got only about 20 carrier-based J-15 because the [state-owned] Aeroengine Corporation has not yet developed a reliable replacement for the Russian-produced AL-31 models.

“It’s likely that the Type 001A will face the same problems as the Liaoning.”