China domestic aircraft carrier has conservative updating of the Soviet version they converted and the next ships will upgrade to nuclear propulsion and electromag launching of planes

China will consider developing a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier after it gains enough experience in operating large vessels, Senior Captain Zhang Junshe with the People’s Liberation Army Naval Military Studies Research Institute said.

China Shipbuilding Industry Corp, which refitted the Liaoning and is building the second carrier in Dalian in northeastern Liaoning Province, has been researching nuclear-powered ships since 2013, PLA Daily reported Friday.

Du Wenlong, a senior researcher at the PLA Academy of Military Science, previously has said that it is highly possible that the navy’s next-generation aircraft carrier will be equipped with nuclear propulsion.

China already has nuclear submarines that require highly sophisticated technologies and manufacturing capabilities, so developing a nuclear carrier will not be difficult, he was quoted as saying.

China’s long-term goal is to have at least four aircraft carriers. China is looking into nuclear propulsion and electromagnetic launching of aircraft to match the aircraft carrier capabilities of US Aircraft carriers.

Developing the design talent to design aircraft carriers

The PLA Navy was able to extract eight truckloads of detailed plans of the Liaoning (repaired Soviet carrier) from the Ukrainian vendors. These have been the foundation of the present activity. China is now facing the same reality that has dogged the efforts of all the major navies of the last century. The greatest restraint on naval expansion in the industrial age has been neither budgets nor disarmament treaties. It has in fact been the lack of drafting expertise to translate the design concepts of naval architects into the detailed compartment-by-compartment drawings that allow the shipbuilders to do their work (arguably, this has been a key problem for Australia with the new Air Warfare Destroyers)

Although the PLA Navy is pursuing multiple paths of technology transfer from overseas, both legitimate and covert, its shipbuilders must recruit and train sufficient expert indigenous design staff in very large numbers at a time when the Chinese navy is seeking to introduce many different new classes: submarines, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, amphibious ships, replenishment ships and light craft. In particular, the demands of the submarine force, both nuclear and conventional, must be a higher priority than the carrier force for the PLA Navy as a whole, and for the national leadership.

China’s second aircraft carrier and its first operational combat carrier will set sail later this year “based on current progress.”

The first ocean-going aircraft carrier combat taskforce of the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, led by the new aircraft carrier, will possess initial combat capability in 2018 or 2019, according to an insightful article in China Military sourced from Southern Weekly.

The carrier will be the first by a developing country with 50000 tons displacement running on conventional power and possessing a ski-jump take-off. This, the article says “reflects China’s small –yet-quick-steps development guideline for its naval vessels and is conducive to forming combat capability as early as possible.”

The second aircraft carrier will be equipped with the same phased array radar as those on the 052D destroyer. Other improvements may include installing advanced satellite communication system, electronic warfare system, and command and control system.

Compared with aircraft carrier Liaoning, the second aircraft carrier will have major improvements in the layout of the flight deck, hangar and island (superstructure) which will be more rational, resulting in saving of space improved overall performance, said the article.

The island of the second aircraft carrier is re-designed from that of the Liaoning as the Soviet Union’s ship-borne radar and electronic equipment is large and heavy, leading to a large island on the Varyad (now Liaoning) and taking up the valuable space on the flight deck.

When modifying the Varyad, China didn’t change the original island structure for stability and project simplification.

SOURCES – Defense World, South China Morning Post, National Interest