The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will soon add another carrier. The Fujian is on track to begin sea trials next year. The warship is the largest flattop to be built in China, and it is China’s most advanced warship. When it enters service, China will have the second-largest number of operational aircraft carriers of any navy in the world.
That fact has not been lost on the Taiwanese military, which delivered an assessment of the threat the carrier presents to the self-governing island. Taiwan’s National Defense Report 2023, released this week, warned that the Chinese-designed Fujian incorporates major technological advances over the PLAN’s two existing carriers, which are both based on Cold War-era Soviet designs.
More Advanced Aircraft Carrier
Though the Type 003 Fujian is conventionally powered, it will be equipped with electromagnetic catapult devices, which are more effective than the steam catapult devices used on other carriers. To date, electromagnetic catapults have only been used on the U.S. Navy’s Gerald R. Ford-class carriers.The added power of the electromagnetic catapults allows for heavier aircraft and shorter runways.
The Fujian is reported to carry as many as 40 jet fighters. Beijing’s current carriers can handle 18 and 32 fighters.
“This is a major maritime threat that we must actively deal with in the future,” said Maj. Gen. Huang Wen-Chi, assistant deputy chief with the General Staff for Intelligence of Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, per Voice of America.
The Defense Report said the Fujian could greatly enhance Beijing’s ability to seal off the Taiwan Strait, potentially delaying or preventing the U.S. military from entering the theater to help defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack. Beijing maintains that the self-governing island is a breakaway province that will be returned to mainland control by force if necessary.
The report also called for the development of a decentralized command platform across military services, based on lessons learned from observing Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Two Years From the First Deployment
China’s new Type 003 Fujian was officially launched in June of last year and could be ready to take to the seas after it completes its current testing phase. Photos on social media showed that the sheds and decks placed around the Fujian for testing have been removed.
Sea trials could take several weeks to complete, but final training for the crew is expected to take about two years before the Fujian will be ready for its maiden deployment.
Current Carrier Operations
While it could be some time before the Fujian joins the fleet, the PLAN continues to flex its muscles in the region. Last week, PLAN carriers Type 001 Liaoning and Type 002 Shandong reportedly deployed to the East China Sea to prepare for large-scale exercises.
In April the PLAN conducted exercises in the waters near Taiwan, and such drills are expected to continue.
Yet, as previously reported by 19FortyFive, Beijing is a long way from matching the reach of the U.S. Navy’s carriers. Even with three flattops, it will likely only be able to deploy a carrier strike group in the waters of the South China or East China Seas — thus “forward-deploying” to its own backyard.
China’s Missing Minister
Meanwhile, according to reports, Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu hasn’t been seen in recent weeks. A veteran of China’s military modernization drive, Li rose through the ranks to become defense minister this year.
Within six months, he disappeared under the cloud of a corruption probe, Reuters reported.
Li has been under investigation in a broad probe over procurement of military equipment. He was last seen in Beijing on Aug. 29 delivering a keynote address at a security forum with African nations.
Author Experience and Expertise:
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.