China's aircraft carriers
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The carrier is being built at Shanghai’s Jiangnan dockyard. Photo: WeChat

China delays launch of Type 003 aircraft carrier for unknown reason – are technical problems at fault?

  • The launch had been expected during Friday’s Dragon Boat Festival but was delayed for an unexplained reason
  • Work on the carrier will continue and analysts say it will take years before the vessel is combat-ready
The launch of China’s third aircraft carrier, the Type 003, which had been expected on Friday, has been postponed.
Military enthusiasts had predicted that Friday would be the launch date after the Maritime Safety Administration released a notice last week, saying five commercial vessels in the Shanghai shipyard where the carrier is being built would be launched to clear the area.

However, the Maritime Safety Administration did not issue any notice on Thursday to warn passing commercial ships of special arrangements in the waters of Jiangnan shipyard – something that happened when the previous carrier, the Shandong, was launched or floated in 2017.

A notice by the administration dated June 2 said a deep excavation project of the Jiangnan shipbuilding company would be postponed to June 30, citing “operational needs” as the reason.

Two independent sources close to the Chinese military said there might be technical problems related to the next phase of the construction of the vessel, which is equipped with cutting-edge equipment and technology.

A recent satellite images shows the ship’s path to the Yangtze has been cleared. Photo: CSIS

However, satellite images and analysis published by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Friday indicated that the dry dock where the warship is positioned has been cleared of other shipbuilding projects, leaving an open path to the Yangtze River.

The satellite image, taken on Tuesday, showed the remaining pre-launch steps that will have to occur before the entire dry dock is flooded and the carrier slips into the water, the think tank added.

Work will continue on the vessel, and military analysts said it had a long way to go before it was combat-ready.

“The launch of the Type 003 just means the part of construction works inside the dry dock is complete, and is expected to kick off another new phase of more comprehensive outfitting works if no problems with leaks are found,” Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at Taiwanese Naval Academy said.

“The outfitting works will involve countless tests … meaning the Type 003 will stay in dock for a while before it goes to sea for trials.”

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Beijing-based naval analyst Li Jie said none of the weapons systems, including missiles and sophisticated radar systems, had been installed.

It took China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, six years to reach initial operational capability (IOC), the basic requirement for being deployed in combat, after it was put into service in 2012.

Its sister ship, the Shandong, China’s first domestically developed aircraft carrier, is still on course to become the navy’s second carrier with IOC status, according to state broadcaster China Central Television.

The Type 003 aircraft carrier is a next-generation ship equipped with more advanced technology than either of the other two carriers, including electromagnetic catapult launch systems rather than Soviet-era ski-jump launch ramps.


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Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank in Beijing, said the Type 003 would need five years to reach IOC status.

“As a conventionally powered aircraft carrier with about 65,000 tonnes of displacement, the Type 003 is just on the par with the USS Kitty Hawk platform,” Zhou said, referring to the American carrier that was retired in 2009 and scrapped early this year.

“The most powerful weapon on an aircraft carrier is fighter jets, but the new generation Type 003 aircraft carrier is still expected to be equipped with J-15 Flying Sharks, the old generation ship-borne warplanes flying on the Liaoning and Shandong.”

Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of the Canada-based Kanwa Asian Defence Monthly, said the Type 003 might take up to 10 years to become a fully operational combat platform.

“Compared with the Liaoning and Shandong ships, as well as other warships built by PLA warship contractor shipbuilders in Dalian and Guangzhou, I believe the quality and workmanship on the Type 003 will be much better,” Chang said.

He said the yard used to have the reputation of being the best shipbuilder in Asia, adding: “The conscientiousness of Shanghai workers has helped the yard win many orders at home and overseas.”