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China begins work on third aircraft carrier's catapult system

Recent images from China's Jiangnan Changxingdao shipyard in Shanghai suggest that work on the People's Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN's) third aircraft carrier's catapult system is now under way.

The images also strengthen previous suppositions that the conventionally powered carrier will feature electromagnetic catapults, given the presence of distinctive features along what will be the track of the aircraft launching system.

These features, such as trunking grooves that can support a power bus along the track, bear resemblance to the US Navy's Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System incorporated on the service's first Ford-class aircraft carrier.

The vessel under construction at the Jiangnan Changxingdao shipyard will be the PLAN's third aircraft carrier overall, but it is the service's first vessel to be configured for catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) aircraft operations. China's first two carriers, Liaoning and Shandong , were each built with ski-jumps and configured for short take-off but arrested recovery operations.

This would allow the third carrier, which would also be the PLAN's largest surface combatant once it comes into service, to launch heavier aircraft types with a wider variety of payloads. The carrier will be equipped with three catapult systems, and two aircraft elevators.

China began initial assembly of its third carrier, which is referred to as the Type 003, around July 2020. Progress seen with its assembly suggest that the vessel may launch in late 2021 or early 2022.

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