China’s Navy Flexes New Aircraft Carrier Muscles

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China has revealed new images of its third aircraft carrier, the Fujian, showcasing preparations for upcoming sea trials and acknowledging for the first time the presence of a mock-up of the country’s next-generation fighter jet.

The latest advancements in China’s naval capabilities were discussed at length on last Saturday’s edition of Military Time, a weekly program aired by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. The Fujian, which was launched in summer 2022, has now become a very public feature of Beijing’s ambitious military modernization efforts under President Xi Jinping.

The buildup and transformation of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army includes an unmissable naval element, with Xi aiming to turn the seafaring service into a so-called “blue-water” navy, capable of projecting power far beyond China’s coasts. To do that, Beijing will need to independently mature its aircraft carrier technologies—and fast—if it hopes to close the gap on the U.S. Navy, the gold standard of maritime forces.

This screen grab from footage aired on Chinese state broadcaster CCTV’s weekly program “Military Time” on February 3, 2024, shows one of the latest views of the Chinese navy’s third aircraft carrier the Fujian. The…


China Central Television

For the first time since it began drip-feeding information about the Fujian this year, CCTV said the flat-top warship’s catapult tracks had been cleared, with a commentator further acknowledging an unspecified “carrier-based aircraft” near the stern of the ship—a hint at the fighter jet military analysts have dubbed the J-35.

“The aircraft mock-up in the images is to test how many carrier-based aircraft can be parked on the elevator at any one time and the full-load speed; how to take-off and land, how to maneuver on the aircraft carrier after the wings are unfolded; how to launch aircraft and how many aircraft to launch and so on while refueling and regassing,” said Cao Weidong, a former PLA Navy senior colonel and ex-military attache at the Chinese Embassy in the United Kingdom.

Cao said the pretesting would affect the airframe’s manufacturing schedule.

The U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered carrier fleet remains the world’s most advanced, allowing for prolonged deployments at sea without the need to refuel. The Chinese navy’s carriers are all conventionally powered, but the Fujian does boast new aircraft launch technologies currently only utilized by the United States.

In December, aerial images captured from a commercial airliner above Jiannan Shipyard in Shanghai, where the carrier was built, showed a suspected J-35 mock-up on the Fujian‘s deck one month after a similar video recorded the preliminary tests of the ship’s electromagnetic catapult, part of its catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery, or CATOBAR, aircraft launch system.

The Fujian‘s electromagnetic CATOBAR system will replace the ski-jumps on its two existing carriers of Soviet design, the Liaoning and the Shandong.

“This is the first aircraft carrier in the world to use conventional power for electromagnetic catapult take-offs,” Cao said in a late-January broadcast of Military Time.

Fujian Aircraft Carrier New Images
This screen grab from footage aired on Chinese state broadcaster CCTV’s weekly program “Military Time” on February 3, 2024, shows one of the latest views of the Chinese navy’s third aircraft carrier the Fujian. The…


China Central Television

“The Fujian is a brand new design and is now progressing normally during mooring tests, laying a very good foundation for sea trials,” Cao said on Saturday of the ship’s long-expected maidan voyage.

“According to the general rule of aircraft carrier construction, after the mooring tests, it should go out to sea for trials. We continue to make improvements after the mooring tests because the more solid your preliminary work, the smoother and safer the subsequent sea trials may be,” Cao said.

The USS Gerald R. Ford, the lead ship of its class, was launched in 2013, commissioned in 2017 and deployed for the first time in 2022.