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Image emerges showing possible design of China’s third aircraft carrier

21 June 2018
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Computer-generated imagery emerged on 20 June showing what could be the design for the PLAN’s third aircraft carrier (centre). Source: Via China Daily

Computer-generated imagery has emerged showing what could be the design for China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN’s) third aircraft carrier, which is believed to under construction at the Jiangnan Changxingdao shipyard in Shanghai.

Released on 20 June, the image, which was shown during a meeting of senior China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) executives, depicts three carriers, two of which are configured for short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) aircraft operations using a ski-jump; and a third one (in the centre of the image) configured for catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) operations.

The image, which was initially posted on CSIC’s WeChat social media page but later deleted, can be interpreted as representing China’s two Kuznetsov-class carriers – Liaoning and an as yet unnamed one that is undergoing trials – and the third carrier, which had already been expected to have a flat deck and feature electromagnetic catapults rather than steam-powered ones.

The third carrier is shown as featuring three catapults and an island configuration similar to that present at China’s land-based carrier mock-up near Wuhan, although it is difficult to determine from the image whether the vessel significantly larger than the other two.

The release of the image comes after Chinese media quoted in November 2017 PLAN and industry officials as saying that Beijing was testing a locally developed system – using Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) J-15 carrier-borne fighter aircraft – that is similar to the General Atomics Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) fitted to the US Navy’s (USN’s) latest Gerald R Ford-class carriers.

However, in a change from how the USN has approached the development of EMALS, sources within the PLAN also claimed at the time that Chinese industry also developed a “new integrated propulsion system” that would permit operation of the Chinese catapult without equipping the PLAN’s carriers with a nuclear powerplant.

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