The Chinese navy, led by President Xi Jinping, has gone through a modernization and expansion program that is nothing short of spectacular. On Friday, he launched his third the most modern aircraft carrierFujian, for marine trials, emphasizes how far he has come and how fast.
The first two carriers, Liaoning and Shandong, were former Soviet projects; Liaoning originally purchased for scrap from Ukraine and refitted. Although obsolete, they have been used to train new generations of naval officers and pilots in the complex science and art of aircraft carrier operations.
This new aircraft carrier design is a quantum leap in the capabilities of these older models and will significantly improve China’s combat power.
Bigger, more powerful
Fujian is colossal: with a length of 316 meters (1,037 feet), it will weigh about 100,000 tons when fully loaded. Its Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) will accelerate the take-off of jets at speed, helping them take off with such force that the aircraft will be able to carry more fuel and weapons, thus extending the range and size of the aircraft carrier’s impact. Early warning aircraft will be able to take off and land more easily, improving the carrier’s ability to spot enemies from afar.
EMALS is also able to launch more aircraft at higher speeds, lifting more aircraft into the air faster than its opponents using older technology – and is vital to protect against incoming attacks.
This latest feature gives Fujian a significant advantage, as only the latest US-class aircraft carrier is equipped with it. France is slowly developing such a system, and India is exploring its feasibility, but outside the United States, only China is using the system. His navy has not yet used a nuclear carrier, as the United States has done for decades. Fujian has a conventional power supply, but it is estimated that the next one to be built by China will be a nuclear engine.
Fujian has shown the world that China has skipped several current military technologies, such as steam catapult launches, rejecting them because of cutting-edge projects that will create a fleet of Chinese carriers for years to come.
Diplomacy by other means
The goal of China’s navy is to have six naval strike groups operating by 2035, allowing China to project unprecedented levels of combat power wherever it wishes. Aircraft carriers do not act alone and form the core of the fleet that surrounds the carrier, protecting this mobile air base while contributing huge amounts of firepower that can destroy targets in the ocean or hundreds of kilometers inland.
Their great compliments from long-range surface-to-air missiles, along with the carrier’s air wing, provide state-of-the-art firepower, giving China a powerful weapon at its disposal. The main role of the strike group of aircraft carriers is to project a force far beyond its national borders. This can be done with the help of real combat power or it can be understood as force, the proximity of an air carrier strike group to a crisis zone that acts as a diplomatic barometer. Either way, they have been effective tools for governing the country for decades.
China’s naval expansion it’s not just about the number of warships. Fleet infrastructure, vital if ships are to be moored, maintained and refueled, has been slowly building up over the last decade. A network of port facilities and dry docks have been built in the Indian Ocean given the growing navy.
The Chinese naval base in Djibouti has been renovated, its quays have expanded to 340 meters (1,115 feet) and can now accommodate its growing fleet of aircraft carriers. Located at the mouth of the Red Sea near the Horn of Africa, the base is rapidly becoming a logistics hub for Chinese naval ships on one of the world’s most strategically important waterways. As China’s economy becomes truly global in scale, its navies are rapidly moving away from protecting China’s coastline to predicting long-range forces. This is of growing concern to the United States as China negotiates rights to a base in Equatorial Guinea on the west coast of Africa to build a naval presence in the Atlantic.
But wait, there’s more
As important as China’s naval ambitions are, this is just the beginning. Fujian is a transitional model, perfecting a powerful new technology, while Chinese naval specialists and designers are striving to make the next technological leap. Its fourth carrier is likely to use nuclear propulsion. This will allow it to sail without recharging or retrofitting for 20 years. However, this could delay the construction of the carrier and its possible introduction into the Chinese navy, as new technologies, especially nuclear ones, are being developed and tested with great care.
The design process has already begun for this future carrier and construction will begin in the near future at the Dalian Shipyard. It is expected to be at least the same size as Fujian, if not larger. Its expanded air wing is likely to fly the latest naval stealth aircraft FC-31 Gyrfalcon, early warning aircraft and drones.
Unmanned technology is a significant challenge, but it is annoying because it could give the country that developed it the first a significant strategic advantage.
As the United States works on new robotic ships, China is not lagging behind as it seeks to develop and expand its unmanned network fleet. He launched the world’s first “drone carrier” powered by AI systems. It will be able to deploy underwater, surface and air drones to ensure that no enemy can approach it without being detected. Although this is just a test field for this new generation of automated naval ships, more modern “carriers” are being designed as unmanned technologies are integrated into China’s manned navy.
An improved version of the Type 076 helicopter carrier is being developed to launch combat drones from its cockpit. Although this is a possibility being explored by other navies, the Chinese version is likely to carry a naval version of the GJ-11 Sharp Sword, which can fly at speeds close to the speed of sound unnoticed by its enemies. .
With a length of more than 11 meters (36 feet) and a range of 4,000 km (2,485 miles), it can carry more than two tons of precision-guided ammunition in its internal weapons compartments – and is designed to penetrate deep into enemy territory and destroy high-value goals.
Powerful unmanned mini-destroyers with advanced radars, torpedoes and the latest surface-to-air missiles are also being designed. They are capable of delivering a powerful blow, especially when connected to a network, and analysts see this as a rival to the US Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (USV), the Sea Hunter.
China is competing with unmanned weapons systems with the United States. There is a fierce debate in Chinese military circles about where to invest their significant but limited resources for the greatest effect. Many argue that the funding should go to large, visible ships such as aircraft carriers and cruisers. However, there is a growing voice in the People’s Liberation Army advocating for smaller, smarter, well-armed vessels. Although nothing in themselves, when networked in a coordinated “swarm” fleet of distributed firepower, they become astounding. Like an army of ants, a few can be destroyed, but acting together, they end up overpowering a much larger force, and China is at the forefront of this vital technology.
This type of strategic planning is crucial if China is to win the next ocean war. Future conflicts will not be won with today’s weapons, but with tomorrow’s. The country that invents these new systems and realistically trains how to use them to its best advantage will prevail.
With Fujian’s launch, the naval arms race in the Pacific has just gained momentum and shows no signs of slowing down. The production of new and modern warships in China is growing every day. This new leviathan now aims to challenge the power of the US Navy, not content to be a regional player, but a superpower in itself.