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China's aircraft carriers

China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier gets brand new command centre

Photos show warship undergoing revamp with scaffolding around ‘island’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2018, 10:15am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2018, 2:33pm

China’s only aircraft carrier in service is undergoing its first major revamp since it was commissioned in 2012, giving it a brand new “island” command centre.

Pictures circulating on the internet show the radar above the Liaoning’s bridge is now gone, as is air traffic control at the island’s rear, with scaffolding around the command centre suggesting there are more changes to come.

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According to Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie, the new structures are likely to be similar to those on the country’s second aircraft carrier, the Type 001A – the first developed in China.

That as yet unnamed warship was built in a Dalian shipyard next to where the Liaoning is berthed and began a final sea trial on Sunday, heading out to the Yellow Sea. Its design is based on the Liaoning but with a number of modifications.

On the new carrier, the air traffic control tower is smaller and the entire island area is also taller and narrower than the Liaoning’s, leaving more space on the flight deck for aircraft operations. The tower windows are also notably bigger than those on the Liaoning, providing a broader view.

The Liaoning’s old air traffic control tower had much smaller windows that obstructed the view, affecting command over take-offs and landings on the deck.

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With the radar now gone, the Liaoning could also be getting a more advanced one like that of the new aircraft carrier. The front of the new warship’s island is also flatter, which could reduce radar reflection.

While the Liaoning’s island also serves as the command for the aircraft carrier strike group, Li said it might be just a temporary arrangement, and that the Type 055 destroyer could also become the strike group’s flagship when it was combat ready.

“The Type 055 is designed with a more advanced telecommunications and electronics system, and better manoeuvrability,” Li said.

The Type 055 guided-missile destroyer, the region’s most advanced and biggest and the carrier’s likely escort, has also just started its maiden sea trial in the East China Sea.

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With the Liaoning under scaffolding and the new warship on a sea trial, the Chinese navy may now be looking at going months – or even a year – without an aircraft carrier, meaning it may have to train ship-based aircraft and personnel on land in that period.

“China is still on the way to increasing its number of aircraft carriers,” Li said. “When there are more than three they won’t have this problem.”

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Work is said to have begun on a third aircraft carrier, with a hi-tech launch system, at a Shanghai shipyard last year.

The Liaoning was originally an unfinished Soviet Kutznetsov-class aircraft carrier, the Varyag. China bought it from Ukraine in 1998 and retrofitted it between 2006 and 2011. The warship last returned to the shipyard for maintenance in 2014.