China is about to build a large and powerful aircraft carrier fleet capable of defending the country's maritime borders and projecting power into remote regions. It is assumed that the optimal appearance and desired capabilities of such forces will be obtained in the thirties. In the meantime, Chinese specialists will have to develop and build ships and carrier-based aircraft, equip naval bases and deal with other issues.
In September 2012, the first Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning entered the PLA Navy. This ship was originally built in the USSR as an aircraft-carrying cruiser, project 1143.6. Later, construction was stopped, and a few years later the ship ended up in China. In 2005-2011. Chinese shipbuilders redesigned the aircraft carrier according to their design "Type 001", and in this form it was brought to the operational strength.
On the basis of pr. "001" and the accumulated experience, a new project "Type 002" was developed. Construction of the lead ship of this type started in the fall of 2013. Later it was named Shandong. In the spring of 2018, the aircraft carrier entered sea trials, and in December 2019 it was admitted to the Navy.
The aircraft carriers "Liaoning" and "Shandong" are ships with a length of more than 300 m with a total displacement of less than 70 thousand tons with a boiler and turbine power plant. The flight deck is equipped with a bow springboard and an air guard. It is known that during the creation of pr. "002" the springboard has undergone changes. It was redesigned to match the characteristics of Chinese fighters.
The ships are capable of carrying about 26 J-15 fighters, as well as helicopters for various purposes of several models. Unlike the original Soviet project, the Chinese "Type 001" and "Type 002" provide for the installation of only defensive weapons - anti-aircraft guns and short-range missile systems.
During exercises and campaigns, Chinese aircraft carriers operate as part of ship groups. Typically, such an AUG includes one Type 055 destroyer, a pair of Type 052D destroyers, at least one 054A frigate, and various support vessels. Whether submarines take part in the strike groups is unknown.
The state of the surface forces in theory allows the PLA Navy to form several AUG of the required composition. Thus, there are 32 Type 054A frigates and 18 Type 052D destroyers in service. This is more than enough to support and protect any realistic number of aircraft carriers, as well as to solve other problems while maintaining a large reserve. In the case of Type 055 destroyers, the situation looks different. Of the 16 planned ships, only 3 have entered service so far, which may impose some planning restrictions.
Earlier it was officially announced that China will continue to build aircraft carriers on projects of its own design. Various publications and statements have mentioned the need for 5-6 ships. It is curious that the PLA Navy is not yet planning a serial approach: until a certain time, only one ship will be built for each project.
In the early tenths, various sources, including official ones, repeatedly mentioned plans to build a third aircraft carrier. Also on display were models showing the possible appearance of such a ship. Real construction started in 2015 or 2016 and is being carried out by Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai. The ship belongs to a new project known as Type 003. His name is unknown and probably hasn't been chosen yet.
Recently, new satellite images of the plant where the aircraft carrier is being built were released. The main contours have already been formed and the superstructure has been installed, but the ship is still on the slipway. The general condition of the hull suggests that this year it will be launched and transferred to the outfitting wall. Taking into account subsequent work, the ship will enter service no earlier than 2022-23.
According to various estimates, the aircraft carrier pr. "003" is slightly longer and wider than its predecessors, but the displacement may reach the level of 80-90 thousand tons. It is assumed that the ship will receive a non-nuclear integrated power plant. The photo shows that the flight deck is smooth. Earlier, it was repeatedly mentioned that the ship will receive electromagnetic catapults. The aviation group will include at least 40-45 J-15 aircraft. In the future, it is possible to use new fighters such as the FC-31.
According to foreign reports, China is already engaged in a new aircraft carrier project "Type 004". The Chinese side does not confirm such work, and in this regard, the possible appearance of the future ship is formed only by various assessments. Whether they correspond to real views on a promising ship is unknown.
According to popular versions, "Type 004" will be larger and heavier than its predecessors. Its length can reach 330-350 m, and its displacement will reach the level of 90-110 thousand tons. The growth in size will be offset by a nuclear power plant, the first in the Chinese aircraft carrier fleet.
It is assumed that the ship will be able to carry at least 70-80 aircraft, helicopters and UAVs. Considering the expected timing of its appearance, we can expect the use of promising samples of aviation technology. You should also wait for the presence of air defense systems. The most daring versions suggest the use of laser defense systems.
"Type 004" should surpass its predecessors in all respects. In addition, such a ship will be on par with leading foreign models in terms of its capabilities. It is quite possible that the project "004" for the first time in Chinese practice will become serial. With the help of 3-4 such ships, it will be possible to bring the aircraft carrier fleet to the desired number and the required quality indicators.
The PLA Navy has at its disposal about 15 large naval bases, distributed along the entire coast of the country. At the same time, not all such facilities are currently capable of receiving aircraft carriers and providing their service. Ports with appropriate capabilities are already being used to support the activities of two aircraft carriers and ship groups. Existing Chinese aircraft carriers have repeatedly been spotted at major naval bases, although their home ports have not yet been disclosed.
In recent years, China has been pursuing an active foreign policy, which, among other things, provides for the deployment of military facilities abroad. In the context of the development of the Navy, the concept of "String of Pearls" is being implemented. It provides for the creation of a "line" of several naval bases and support points along the coast of the Pacific and Indian oceans.
For warships of the PLA Navy, more than a dozen ports are already available in several countries of the region. They are mainly used to supply ships on cruises and to solve other auxiliary tasks. At the same time, full-fledged naval bases with developed coastal groupings are being built on the disputed Paracel Islands and on the Spratly Islands. The construction of a base in Djibouti is also continuing - the first full-fledged facility of its kind on the territory of a foreign state.
Overseas bases and points can receive ships of different classes, up to large destroyers and cruisers. In the future, the fleet will have to ensure the possibility of receiving aircraft carriers that are even larger in size and draft. With a favorable development of events and with the necessary opportunities, China plans to build up to 8-10 full-fledged bases, both within the framework of the "thread" being formed, and in more remote regions.
In the next 15-20 years, the Chinese naval forces plan to form up to 5-6 carrier strike groups and build up to a dozen remote bases. All this will seriously affect the state of the Chinese fleet and make it a full-fledged force capable of operating in almost all regions of the World Ocean. In addition, the PLA Navy will become an equal contender for the US Navy.
However, all these events are expected only in the distant future. And in the short and medium term, the fleet and shipbuilding will have to work long and fruitfully. It is necessary to continue the process of developing aircraft carriers and carrier-based aviation, to train personnel and at the same time prepare the infrastructure. Whether China will be able to fulfill all the tasks set is a big question. However, in the recent past, he has repeatedly shown and proven his ability to set ambitious goals and achieve them.