China to launch second aircraft carrier this year

China's second aircraft carrier will superficially resemble the Liaoning (pictured). Image courtesy of Wikipedia
China's second aircraft carrier will superficially resemble the Liaoning (pictured). Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This week comments on Chinese state TV suggest that it plans to launch its second aircraft carrier in 2017.

These comments by retired officer Xu Guangyu on CCTV follow similar comments last year by the Chinese Ministry of Defense which stated that most of the major construction and design work had already been completed.

The as-yet unnamed aircraft carrier will be the first to have been completely constructed in China, representing a major upgrade for the country’s naval fighting capabilities.

China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was built using the former hull of a partially-built ship in the Soviet Union.

The hull, then known as the Varyag, was shipped to Hong Kong, where it would allegedly be used as a “floating casino”. Later it instead underwent significant refitting before being launched in 2012 as a combat-ready aircraft carrier.

The second carrier, dubbed the Type 001A, is currently under construction in Dalian in northern China, and will in many ways be similar to the Liaoning design with a few key modifications.

Specifically, the ‘ski jump’ ramp has been changed from 14 to 12 degrees, enabling shorter take-off distances for aircraft.

As well, the central control tower was shrunk enabling the aircraft carrier to have more deck space and thus store more aircraft.

Copying to catch up

The development of China’s aircraft carriers followers a similar progression to many other fields of manufacturing in which the country now excels.

First, a foreign design (the Varyag) was acquired before Chinese engineers learned all they could about how it operated. Then the design was copied with small changes (the Type 001A), while manufacturing skill was improved.

Now China is planning for the next step in this progression with its 3rd aircraft carrier. Called the Type 002, it will be substantially more advanced than the previous two and will be 100% Chinese in design and construction.

In this way, the country can be seen to be using each new ship as a way of improving its technological and military expertise while at the same time increasing its production rate.

The Type 002, while its design is not 100% finalized, is expected for a 2019 launch.