The Naval Forces of the People’s Liberation Army of China (PLA) acquired a third aircraft carrier: on June 17, a ceremonial launching of a ship of project 003, called “Fujian” and tail number 18, took place at a shipyard in Shanghai. This long-awaited event does not add calmness to such countries like the US and Japan that see the Chinese navy as a direct threat to their naval ambitions.
In fact, this means that China has become the second naval power (in terms of the number of aircraft carrier strike groups) after the United States, leaving behind the fleets of such states as Britain and Italy, which each have two aircraft carriers. Far behind are the fleets of France, Spain, India (the second aircraft carrier is in the commissioning stage) and Thailand, which each have one running aircraft carrier. One can, of course, recall a number of states that have universal landing ships. In some cases, they are called aircraft carriers with a stretch (for example, Japanese Hyuga-class UDCs, capable of carrying F-35 short takeoff and landing aircraft), but for the sake of “purity of research”, we will keep the distribution of ships according to their officially recognized classification.
Problems for the “mistresses of the seas”
In no more than a year and a half, the new aircraft carrier of the PLA Navy will enter the combat structure of the Chinese fleet. After some time, the ship and its crew will reach operational readiness and will be able to perform combat missions in the expanses of the oceans. Even now, with two Project 001 Liaoning and Project 002 Shandong aircraft carriers in the PLA Navy, which lead aircraft carrier multipurpose groups, the United States keeps a reinforced detachment of its forces and more than one nuclear aircraft carrier off the coast of China. With the advent of the third Chinese “floating airfield”, the US Navy, maintaining the balance of power, will be forced to further increase its presence in the area, despite the fact that the current state of the aircraft carrier group of forces makes it difficult to maintain current tasks. So they will be stressed.
This is also evidenced by the fact that Britain, which became one of the founders of the anti-Chinese military alliance AUKUS (USA, Britain and Australia) and striving to return to the world’s leading naval positions, will consider it necessary to keep one of its aircraft carriers, especially since the long-range sea voyage of Queen Elizabeth in the spring-autumn of 2021 to the Indo-Pacific region showed the possibility of deploying British naval forces off the Chinese coast.
Chinese carrier force
To date, the PLA Navy has accumulated vast practical experience in the operation of the Liaoning and Shandong aircraft carriers, which allows the naval command to fully understand the real combat capabilities of the ships and the aviation groups based on them.
Unlike the first two ships, one of which is the completed Soviet aircraft-carrying cruiser Varyag, and the other is its deep modernization, the new project is something fundamentally different. Its main feature is the presence on the deck of three electromagnetic catapults at once instead of the previously used springboards. The catapults drastically increase the time required for the rise into the air of a carrier-based aviation regiment, which will be based on a ship. It also has two aircraft lifts, which provide faster delivery of aircraft from below-deck hangars to the airfield and back.
The most interesting thing is that Chinese naval circles have long been discussing the deployment of future ships not only in the usual places on the territory of the mainland of China, but also at bases that are being deployed almost all over the world. Beijing is scaring the “traditional” naval powers with plans to develop its navies, breaking the usual perception of the current world order.
For example, by 2035, the PRC is expected to be able to project its power to any point in the oceans. And by 2050, the PLA Navy must achieve complete superiority in all theaters of intended naval operations.
The pace of construction of warships does not refute these plans, but confirms the possibility of their implementation. The number of combat ships of the PLA Navy being put into operation for several years already exceeds the same indicator in the United States, which is very saddened by this circumstance, but unfortunately they cannot stop this process. A few more years – and the Chinese aircraft carrier groups, supported by missile frigates and destroyers, will cease to reckon with the American fleet, and then completely suppress it.
This is not a fantasy movie script. This is a new reality that Washington obviously cannot survive.