January 22, 2016

China will make more aircraft carriers and carrier groups til they get a global blue water force

China's first indigenous aircraft carrier is nearing completion. It is the second chinese aircraft carrier for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) after the refurbished Liaoning.

The new carrier is still part of a conservative engineering journey for China learning and developing experience in how to design and build aircraft carriers.

China is also adopting a concerted strategy in developing a CBG (Carrier Based Group). They are paying close attention to how established carrier navies operate such forces. As such, while developing the carrier, efforts are long afoot to develop a slew of other capabilities that can help constitute a full-fledged CBG. Notably, the Chinese are churning out new major surface combatants, such as the Type-052C/D Luyang II/III guided missile destroyers and Type-054A Jiangkai II frigates, which are optimized for fleet air defense and ASW respectively. Even more ominously, but often overlooked, is China’s ambitious program to build more capable ocean-going fleet replenishment vessels. In the past recent years, new units of the Type-903 (plus the improved 903A variant) replenishment vessels have entered service. An even more capable successor, touted the Type-901 which is said to displace some 40-45,000 tons (just slightly smaller than the new carrier itself), is at an advanced stage of construction.

China is enhancing its airborne early warning capabilities. They are developing an analogue to the E-2C Hawkeye, touted the JZY-01, but little has come about this project. The Chinese are more likely to employ the larger Z-18J AEW helicopter, which is a refined version of the Z-8 that is in turn a reverse-engineered copy of the old French SA321 Super Frelon design.

The new carrier is said to be equipped with the J-15 Flying Shark carrier-borne fighter jets, which currently equip the Liaoning. Plans to develop carrier-borne J-31 multi-role fighters have not yet materialized, thus leaving the J-15 as the only carrier-borne fighter jet.

China will continue to forge ahead with its carrier ambitions. The carrier currently being built in Dalian is its first indigenous attempt, but certainly not its last. The Chinese carrier program is part of the overall drive towards a global blue-water force.

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