China's indigenous aircraft carrier can carry 36 fighters: State media

Both Liaoning, second aircraft carrier are significantly larger than India's ships

j-15-china-mod A J-15 taking off from the Liaoning | China's Ministry of Defence

China's first indigenous aircraft carrier will able to carry “at least 36 J-15 fighter jets”, 12 more than its predecessor, state-run media reported on Tuesday. The reports said the added numbers would boost the combat capability of the second aircraft carrier.

The Global Times and China Central Television (CCTV) reported about the capabilities of the new aircraft carrier, referred to as the Type-001A, that is undergoing sea trials.

CCTV reported that China's existing aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, can carry only 24 J-15 jets. The Liaoning, which was commissioned into Chinese service in 2012, was obtained from Ukraine in 1998. The ship was known as the Varyag and was meant to be an aircraft carrier for the Soviet Union's navy. It was extensively modernised by China prior to commissioning.

The J-15 is similar to the Sukhoi Su-30 fighters in service with the Indian Air Force and Chinese military. It was an indigenous Chinese modification of a former Soviet-era airframe handed over by Ukraine. It is a larger aircraft than the MiG-29K fighter of the Indian Navy, with longer ranger and heavier weapons-carrying capability.

Smaller yet bigger!

Li Jie, an expert told the Global Times,“Although the second carrier... is similar to the Liaoning, it has an optimised flight deck, reduced weapon areas and a smaller superstructure with added deck areas”.

The Global Times article added the second aircraft carrier also had an enlarged hangar space for storage of aircraft, but “reduced space for missile storage” compared with the Liaoning. All the space saved on the second aircraft carrier allows it to carry 50 per cent more aircraft, the Global Times report said.

(File) Liaoning (File) The aircraft carrier Liaoning

Li noted “regional combat might require about 40 aircraft to seize air supremacy”. In addition to 36 J-15 fighters, China's second aircraft carrier can carry over a dozen helicopters for anti-submarine and airborne early-warning roles.

CCTV also spoke to the head of China's aircraft carrier programme, Hu Wenming. Hu declared "Whatever type of aircraft carrier our country wants to develop in the future, we can make it on our own.”

China's second aircraft carrier was launched in April 2017, 26 months after its construction started. CCTV reported, this was “almost half the time of a foreign aircraft carrier of similar type to finish construction”. The Global Times reported the second aircraft carrier sailed for its seventh sea trial in early August. Earlier, reports claimed the second carrier could be delivered to the Chinese Navy this year itself.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank, China's second aircraft carrier displaces about 66,000 to 70,000 tonnes of water, which is more than the Liaoning. It has a length of around 315 metres. Both the Liaoning and China's second aircraft carrier are significantly larger than the Indian Navy's in-service carrier INS Vikramaditya and the under-construction Indigenous Aircraft Carrier.

However, both the Chinese ships and the Indian Navy's carriers use 'ski-jumps' to launch their aircraft, restricting their take-off weight and capability for air-to-ground missions. This reduces the strike capability of such ships compared with the US Navy's aircraft carriers that use catapults to launch aircraft at heavier weights.

The Future

China is also building a third aircraft carrier, which is expected to be larger and more capable than the Liaoning and Type 001A. CSIS claims the third aircraft carrier could displace over 80,000 tonnes and use catapults to launch its aircraft. The third carrier is being built at the Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai and is expected to be operational by 2022.