China’s navy is growing at a rapid rate. On Dec. 17, 2019, China commissioned its first homegrown aircraft carrier, the Shandong, into service as part of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, Chinese state media reported.
The new carrier entered service at the naval port in Sanya on the South China Sea island of Hainan. The ship bears the hull number 17.
China joins only a handful of countries that maintain multiple aircraft carriers, but its combat power is still limited compared with the UK’s F-35B stealth-fighter carriers and especially the 11 more advanced carriers fielded by the US.
The Shandong is the Chinese navy’s second carrier after the Liaoning, previously a rusty, unfinished Soviet heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser that was purchased in the mid-1990s, refitted, and commissioned in 2012 to serve as the flagship of the Chinese navy.
The Shandong is an indigenously produced variation of its predecessor. It features improvements like an upgraded radar and the ability to carry 36 Shenyang J-15 fighters, 12 more than the Liaoning can carry.
Construction of a third aircraft carrier is believed to be underway at China’s Jiangnan Shipyard, satellite photos revealed earlier this year.
China’s first and second carriers are conventionally powered ships with ski-jump-assisted short-take-off-barrier-arrested-recovery launch systems, which are less effective than the catapults the US Navy uses on its Nimitz- and Ford-class carriers.
The third aircraft carrier is expected to be a true modern flattop with a larger flight deck and catapult launchers.
A J-15 taking off from Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning.
“This design will enable it to support additional fighter aircraft, fixed-wing early-warning aircraft, and more rapid flight operations,” the US Department of Defense wrote in its most recent report on China’s military power.
The US Navy has 10 Nimitz-class carriers in service, and it is developing a new class of carrier. The USS Gerald R. Ford is undergoing postdelivery tests and trials, and the future USS John F. Kennedy, the second of the new Ford-class carriers, was recently christened at Newport News Shipyard in Virginia.
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