China’s next aircraft carrier will make its Navy distant second behind the USA

China’s third carrier (called the 002) is expected to be launched in 2019 or 2020. It will be almost as large as the US Nimitz carriers and include electromagnetic launchers.

002 will undoubtedly come with other improvements. A more robust air defense weapons suite is likely, with close-in weapons such as the HQ-10 Flying Leopard short-range air defense system similar to the American RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM). Passive anti-missile and anti-torpedo defenses will be expanded to give the ship a fighting chance under attack.

China’s carriers could usefully operate inside the first island chain. China has fortified the South China Sea islands.

India also trying for a large third carrier

The Indian Navy has put out a proposal for its third aircraft carrier, tentatively titled the Vishal due to enter service in the latter 2020s. The 65,000-ton Vishal will be significantly larger than India’s sole current carrier, the Vikramaditya known formerly as the ex-Soviet Admiral Gorshkov, and the incoming second one, the domestically-built Vikrantwhich is expected to enter service later in 2018.

The Vishal would have 57 fighters. There are 75+ aircraft aboard a U.S. Navy Gerald R. Ford-class supercarrier.

The Indian Navy is also looking at an electromagnetic launch system for its third carrier, similar to the one aboard the Ford class. India’s first two carriers have STOBAR configurations, in which aircraft launch with the assistance of a ski-jump. Ski jumps means fewer weapons and more limited range for fighters.

India’s current two carriers like China’s current carrier are small with limited fighters.

Even with a third carrier, the threat of land-based Pakistani aircraft will force the Indian Navy to dedicate a large proportion of its own air wings to defense — perhaps half of its available fighters, according to 2017 paper by Ben Wan Beng Ho for the Naval War College Review.