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China's third aircraft carrier Fujian gears up for sea trials


China launched its second indigenously-built aircraft carrier 'Fujian' in June 2022. (A file photo)

BEIJING (PTI): China's third aircraft carrier 'Fujian', the heaviest and most advanced compared to its two previous warships, is gearing up for sea trials, official media reported on Wednesday.

State-run China Central Television displayed the latest footage of the domestically built aircraft carrier on its news programme which showed the three electromagnetic catapult tracks uncovered on the ship.

The People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will push forward with the mooring trials of CNS Fujian, China's second domestically-made aircraft carrier, as scheduled in the new year, said Yin Hongxin, an officer aboard the vessel, official China Daily reported.

China's official media often creates buzz about the progress of new defence equipment like new ships, fighter jets and missiles, displaying their photos to generate public interest.

China launched Fujian in June 2022 with a lot of fanfare with claims that it could match the US aircraft carriers in terms of technology as Beijing is increasingly coming under pressure from Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy especially in the disputed South China Sea and Taiwan, which it claims as part of its territory.

China claims most of the South China Sea while Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counterclaims.

China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was a refit of the Soviet-era ship commissioned in 2012 followed by the indigenously built 2nd aircraft carrier Shandong in 2019.

With 80,000 tonnes displacement, 20,000 tonnes more than the first and second aircraft carriers, the Fujian was expected to venture out to far off seas like the Indian Ocean – India’s backyard where the Indian Navy has a robust presence.

China has already expanded its naval base at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa to berth aircraft carriers. China has also acquired the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka as a debt swap for 99 years. It is also modernising Pakistan’s Gwadar port in the Arabian Sea.

China plans to have around five aircraft carriers, according to the official media. The next aircraft carrier China plans to build is expected to be nuclear-powered.

Naval experts say Fujian may take some time for operationalisation. Perhaps PLAN may begin sending aircraft carriers to the Indian Ocean by 2025.

The Fujian, which is the "first fully domestically developed and constructed" aircraft carrier with an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS), has a flat, straight flight deck and arresting device.

EMALS was regarded by naval experts as a major leap forward by the Chinese Navy as currently, only the US has such an advanced one. It is more energy-efficient and reduces maintenance. It is used also on the US Navy's Gerald R. Ford-class carriers.

While China's other two aircraft carriers are equipped with ski-jump take-off ramps, the Fujian features a flat-top flight deck.

The J-15 fighter jet which China currently operates from its aircraft carriers were regarded as a major problem as each plane weighed about 18 tonnes, too heavy for carriers in the long run. The planes were considered to be a big drag.

In a major rejig of its military doctrine, China since 2013 stepped up the development of the Navy with a massive budget while cutting down the number of army troops.

The modernisation included building several aircraft carriers besides submarines, frigates and assault ships as part of its efforts to expand its global influence.

Besides speeding up the naval shipbuilding, China is also helping Pakistan to modernise its navy by providing its latest naval frigates to operate with its navy in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.

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