China’s first CATOBAR carrier completes maiden trial

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)’s third and most advanced aircraft carrier, Fujian, completed its maiden sea trial and returned to Shanghai’s Jiangnan shipyard on Wednesday 8 May, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Citing official sources, Xinhua reported that the aircraft carrier completed tests of its power and electrical systems and achieved “the expected results” during the eight-day trial.

The agency also noted that Fujian’s first sea trial was longer than those of its predecessors, the short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR)-configured Liaoning and the Shandong aircraft carriers. In contrast, Liaoning took five days and the Shandong took six days to complete their first trials.

Fujian was launched on 17 June 2022 at the Jiangnan Changxingdao shipyard in Shanghai.

The 80,000-plus tonne carrier, which is also known locally as the Type 003, will be a significant new capability for the rapidly expanding PLAN given that it will be the service’s first catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR)-capable vessel and equipped with electromagnetic catapult and arresting system technology, an advanced system currently only found aboard the US Navy’s new nuclear-powered USS Gerald Ford. However, unlike its American counterpart, the Chinese carrier will be conventionally powered.

Liaoning and Shandong, which entered service in September 2012 and December 2019 respectively are in contrast built with ski-jumps and configured for STOBAR operations. Both earlier carriers are also smaller and 20,000 tonnes lighter, which translates into less aircraft capacity and range. The ski-jump also imposes considerable constraints on the take-off weight and payload of the aircraft being launched.

According to local media, the carrier is expected to support an improved version as well as an electronic warfare variant of the Shenyang J-15 multirole fighter as well as two new aircraft that are currently in advanced stages of development: a turboprop-powered airborne early warning and command aircraft called the KJ-600, and a twin-engine stealthy multirole fighter understood to be the J-35.

Fujian also features an advanced deck coating developed by state-owned defence prime China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). The company announced on 22 June that its 703 Institute – also known as the Aerospace Research Institute of Materials & Processing Technology (ARIMPT) – had supplied its “second-generation multifunction coating” for the carrier’s jet blast deflectors, as well as the non-skid coating for its flight deck.

The carrier has been named after the southeastern province that is closest to Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing says must be reunified with the mainland even by force.

by Jr Ng