A major Chinese shipbuilder briefly posted, and then deleted, images of plans for ships and weapons systems that reveals that China may be planning to unseat the US as the most powerful navy in the world.
The images, screengrabbed and reported on by Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer at Popular Science, showed Chinese plans for a massive, nuclear-capable aircraft carrier with stealth jets, nuclear submarines, and underwater drones, as well as a possible "underwater Great Wall of China" attack and defense system to surveil and attack enemy ships.
The China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) had previously confirmed on their website that a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was in the works and expected by 2025, the South China Morning Post reported.
China currently operates two aircraft carriers, both of which are based on Cold War-era Soviet designs and burn fossil fuels, which limits their range and power projection ability. The smaller carriers, which displace about 60,000 tons, feature ski-jump platforms rather than the flat decks of US aircraft carriers, which also limits the weight and range of the aircraft it can launch.
Once named Varyag by the Soviets in 1988, this carrier would later be commissioned into the People's Liberation Army Navy as Liaoning in 2012. (Photo from U.S. Navy)
The photos posted by CSIC show a large flat-deck carrier that looks much like US Nimitz-class carriers.
One picture shows a carrier at sea with models of unmanned drones and stealth jets on the deck. China has an upcoming class of stealth jets, though none of them have been navalized.
With a nuclear-powered, flat-deck aircraft carrier, China would join the US and France as the only countries with full-on naval power projection capabilities. China's single nuclear carrier would put it on par with France, but far behind the US, which has 11 full-size nuclear aircraft carriers.
But the leaked images likely indicate China wants to rival the US, as they included plans for electromagnetic catapults to launch heavy jets, just like those found on US's newest aircraft carriers.
Paired with the nuclear attack submarines also leaked by CSIC, the Chinese navy could see a considerable boost in power-projection capability.
China has long focused on countering the power of US aircraft carriers, but has usually done so with "carrier killer" ballistic missiles.
The fact that China is investing in such an expensive, valuable target to put to sea so far in the future indicates there is some life left in the concept of aircraft carriers.