Video Above: China's 075 Amphibious Assault Ship the Hainan
China is making rapid progress with construction of its “third” aircraft carrier as part of a deliberate, stated effort to massively increase its ability to “project power” around the globe and advance its goal of evolving from a dominant regional power in the Pacific to a dominant maritime power on the global stage.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy’s first indigenous carrier, the Shandong, is the country’s second carrier. It is already performing dual-carrier operations and going on deployments near the South China Sea. China’s home built carrier features a larger, more expansive flat air deck quite similar to that of the US Navy’s Ford class.
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Song Zhongping: China's Third Aircraft Carrier
Extending beyond this, China’s Global Times newspaper is now saying that its third carrier, called the Song Zhongping, will launch as soon as this year. The launch of this 3rd carrier is integral to China’s stated expansionist goals. The Chinese government-backed Global Times quotes a Chinese military expert saying "We need to sail to more unfamiliar waters, face more complicated weather and sea conditions in more complex missions, and have more accompanying forces."
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It seems quite apparent that China’s indigenously-built carriers seem to resemble the US Navy’s Ford-class carriers, as they abandon the “ski jump” configuration of its first carrier in favor of a larger, flatter deck space similar to the US Ford-class. Beyond that, however, there appears to be yet another substantial way in which the emerging 3rd Chinese carrier appears to “copy,” “mirror,” or “match” the US Ford Class. The Global Times report says “commercial satellite images indicate that it is different from the previous two carriers and used electromagnetic catapults.”
Electromagnetic Air Launch System (EMALS)
Does the new Chinese carrier copy the US Navy’s breakthrough Electromagnetic Air Launch System (EMALS)? It appears to be that way, however technological specifics of the EMALS system are likely not available, it certainly seems conceivable that China sought to replicate, copy or even “steal” US innovations in the realm of carrier propulsion.
China is known for having a large domestic shipbuilding infrastructure and is of course moving aggressively to rev up ship construction in a clear effort to meet if not eventually overmatch the US.
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For instance, the President of the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition (ACIBC) Rick Gianni told The National Interest that China’s shipyards are four times larger than US shipyards, a circumstance which may enable rapid, large-scale ship production. China is quickly adding new destroyers, amphibious assault ships and of course carriers, a development prompting the US Navy to consider shipbuilding expansions and efforts to pursue a larger fleet.
The Chinese Navy is already numerically larger than the US, however that by no means suggests it is superior in terms of maritime warfare technology. Also, while China may be quickly building carriers in an effort to match the US Navy’s power projection capability, it does have a long way to go before it can rival the US fleet of at least 11 aircraft carriers.
But the third carrier features a number of new technologies, so it might take longer. For example, commercial satellite images indicate that it is different from the previous two carriers and uses electromagnetic catapults, he said.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.