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On 17 June 2022, China floated its third and most modern aircraft carrier in its dry dock at the Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai. The ship was christened FUJIAN, a southeastern coastal province, hull number 18. The ceremony was broadcast by the CCTV public television station, Chinese online media showed photos.

A veil of silence still hangs over details. Western military analysts attribute the FUJIAN a displacement of about 100,000 tonnes. The Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates its length at about 318 metres. It seems certain that the new ship will be equipped with electromagnetic catapults. So far, only the US Navy uses Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems (EMALS). Catapult launches enable the use of the KJ-600 reconnaissance and early warning aircraft, the Chinese version of the E-2D HAWKEYE. Presumably, the FC-31 will also be used. The stealth aircraft, which resembles the American F-35, can be used as a fighter and a fighter-bomber. Western analysts estimate that there will be room for between 48 and 60 aircraft on the FUJIAN.

The FUJIAN is believed to have integrated or fully electric propulsion (IEP/FEP). Experts expect a nuclear propulsion system for Type 004.

Aircraft Carrier Roadmap

Once operational, FUJIAN will be the third aircraft carrier of the People’s Republic, hence the designation Type 003. It is the second one built in the country after SHANDONG (Hull Number 17). LIAONING is the Ukrainian-built VARYAG, a KUZNETSOV-class carrier built for the Soviet Navy.

Chinese commentaries refer to Type 003 FUJIAN as the answer to the US Navy’s moderrn aircraft carriers such as the USS GERALD R. FORD. For comparison, a FORD-class aircraft carrier has about 74 aircraft on board, including 44 F/A-18E/F and F-35C fighters. These have a length of 333 metres and a displacement 100,000 tonnes.

With the FUJIAN, Beijing wants to demonstrate its continuous progress towards its intended global maritime supremacy. Even if it will still take time for it to reach operational capability, earlier Pentagon analyses assumed 2024, Type 003 also represents China’s growing military power. Whether the PLAN achieves a similar power projection capability with its aircraft carriers as the US Navy does with its carrier groups rotating across the globe implies more than ambition and imagination. They are certainly useful as a means of enforcing a political will or impressing possible partners.