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China's third aircraft carrier taking shape

Recent aerial images of the aircraft carrier under construction at the Changxingdao shipyard in Shanghai show that the island unit has been installed and that most of the metal fabrication work is complete, suggesting that the ship could be launched within the next six months.

The images show that the People's Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN's) third carrier, which is the first configured for catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) aircraft operations, will be equipped with three catapults and two hangar lifts. The photographs also show that carrier β€˜003' will be larger than the preceding two, which were built to the Soviet-era Kuznetzov-class design with a ski-jump, with the overall length of the flight deck extended by about 15 m to 320 m and the overall beam increased by 7 m to 82 m.

Once the carrier is launched there will be a fitting-out and setting-to-work phase, during which the installation and testing of the ship's power, propulsion, weapon systems and sensors will be completed. This is likely to take a further 12–15 months.

Once complete, the carrier will commence sea trials, the duration of which is likely to depend on the amount of equipment not previously in service with the PLAN. The most significant of these is the catapult system, which is fundamental to the operational utility of the carrier.

It has been anticipated for some time that an electromagnetic catapult system will be used. Although a land-based catapult test facility was installed at the Huangdicun airbase around 2016, there will nonetheless need to be an extensive testing programme in the significantly more challenging environment on board the carrier. This proved to be the case with the US Navy's Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) installed in the first Ford-class carrier.

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