China starting construction of supercarrier with electromagnetic launch but using older heavier fighter jets

The weight of China’s J15 fighter is one of the key reasons China will use an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) on China’s third carrier. Construction of the third carrier is expected to start next year and will use electromagnetic launch rather than steam-powered catapults. The carrier is expected to have 80,000 ton displacement which would put it in the super carrier class.

Supercarrier is an unofficial descriptive term for the largest type of aircraft carrier, typically those displacing over 70,000 long tons. The United States Navy has 11 active supercarriers as of 2017. The United Kingdom’s first Queen Elizabeth-class carrier is undergoing sea trials and is expected to enter service in late 2017.

Heavy Jet Fighter

The J15 weighs about 33 tons. The US Navy used a heavy carrier-based fighter decades ago. The 33.7 tonne F-14 Tomcat. But they were replaced by the lighter F-18 Super Hornet in 2006 after 32 years of service. The maximum take-off weight of an F-18 Super Hornet is 29.9 tonnes according to the website of manufacturer Boeing.

The J-15 was based on a prototype of a fourth-generation Russian Sukhoi Su-33 twin-engined air superiority fighter. The Russian design is now more than 30 years old.

Electromagnetic launch capability

China was confident about its EMALS technology now that it was able to produce its own insulated-gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) chips, a key component of the high-efficiency electric energy conversion systems used in variable-speed drives, trains, electric and hybrid electric vehicles, power grids and renewable energy plants.

The technology was developed by China’s first semiconductor manufacturer, Hunan-based Zhuzhou CSR Times Electric, and British subsidiary Dynex Semiconductor after the Chinese company acquired 75 per cent of Dynex’s shares in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis.

An integrated propulsion system, a technological breakthrough developed by top PLA Navy engineer Rear Admiral Ma Weiming and his team, will enable China’s second home-grown aircraft carrier to use the world’s most advanced launch system for its fighter jets without having to resort to nuclear power.

An aircraft carrier uses a lot of electric power for take-offs and landings and the integrated propulsion system will be able to provide it. Ma has said experimental results showed the system could result in fuel savings of up to 40 per cent for an aircraft carrier.