With a second carrier already launched and currently being prepared for entry into the People's Liberation Army Navy, it's clear that Communist China isn't resting on its laurels. In fact, China has already started building the first in a new class of aircraft carriers.
According to a report by the South China Morning Post, the first Type 002 carrier, which so far is being called CV-18, was started last year in Shanghai. This is China's first indigenously-designed class of aircraft carriers. The Type 001 class, which consists of the Liaoning and the larger Shandong, is based on the Russian Navy's Admiral Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier.
The Liaoning. (JMSDF photo)
GlobalSecurity.org notes that this carrier is intended to be a counterpart to retired, conventionally-fueled aircraft carriers. The last such carrier in United States Navy service was USS Kittyhawk (CV 63), which was decommissioned in 2009. It will be equipped with catapults to launch aircraft as opposed to the ski-jump used on the Liaoning and Shandong.
CV-18, at 85,000 tons, is reportedly able to hold up to 85 aircraft. This puts it close to the aircraft capacity of the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarriers that currently form the main striking power of the United States Navy. The Chinese Communists plan to build a second Type 002 carrier.
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to participate Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2010 exercises. RIMPAC is a biennial, multinational exercise designed to strengthen regional partnerships and improve multinational interoperability. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Shawn D. Torgerson)
While the oldest Nimitz-class carrier, USS Nimitz (CVN 68), turns 43 years old this year, it operates not only fighters and helicopters, but also airborne, early-warning aircraft and electronic-warfare planes. GlobalSecurity.org notes that China, at the present time, has neither a carrier-borne airborne radar plane nor an electronic warfare plane in service.
The Chinese also are planning to build two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, known as the Type 003. These vessels would potentially be able to match the Gerald R. Ford-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and would displace 110,000 tons. The first Type 003 is slated to enter service by 2028.
USS Gerald R. Ford underway, propelled by two A1B reactors. (US Navy photo)
By that time, the United States Navy will have three Ford-class carriers in service, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), and USS Enterprise (CVN 80). A fourth carrier, known only as CVN 81, will be in service in 2030. That said, China will be able to give the Navy a tough fight.