China wants to build a US-style aircraft carrier

China's sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. | PLA

China’s sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. | PLA

China has one aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, that’s designated as a training vessel and has never been on a combat deployment, but new photos suggest that they want to build a true, US-style aircraft carrier.

Mike Yeo of the US Naval Institute News Service reports that China has set out to develop a Catapult-Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) variant of the Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark.

Also read: How Russia plans to imitate US naval power with its aircraft carrier deployment to Syria

Right now, China’s aircraft carrier uses a ski-jump design, where planes hit a ramp to launch of the ship. This greatly limits the maximum weight of the planes, meaning they can’t carry as much fuel or ordnance as land-launched variants can.

Only the US and France operate true flat tops, or aircraft carriers that use either catapults or steam powered launchers that grip and throw the planes off board with such force that no ramp is needed. Therefore, US and French planes launching from carriers can carry much more substantial loads of fuel and bombs for better range and efficacy on missions.

But now photos surfaced in Yeo’s piece suggest that China is trying to imitate these flat top carriers. Here’s a photo of a J-15 with additional nose landing gear (this is what the catapult couples with during launches).

A photo from the Chinese language Internet showing the nose gear of a J-15 Shenyang thought to be designed for carrier operations. | USNI News

A photo from the Chinese language Internet showing the nose gear of a J-15 Shenyang thought to be designed for carrier operations. | USNI News

Below we see Huangdicun Airbase, where it looks like China has tried to emulate a steam catapult, which the US Nimitz class carriers have, and an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS), which the US plans to deploy on the coming Ford class carriers.

Huangdicun Airbase. | USNI News

Huangdicun Airbase. | USNI News

Aircraft carriers provide several advantages over land bases, chief among them the fact that aircraft carries allow nations to project power around the globe.

Currently, China is building a second ski-jump style carrier, but it seems it may be planning a third flat top some time soon.

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