To address increasing reliance on shipping of oil, gas and other strategic resources to China, and to protect the products it exports and its growing overseas interests, Beijing has moved from a policy of near-seas defence to ones of far-seas protection, a global oceanic presence and even expansion towards the north and south poles.
Undoubtedly, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) under Chairman Xi Jinping has enormous aspirations, perhaps best symbolised by the investment China is pouring into aircraft carriers. Quite apart from their prestige, carriers reflect China’s ambition to project power far beyond Chinese shores, in accordance with the 2015 Defence White Paper that stated “the traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests”.
The PLAN launched its third carrier, the Type 003 Fujian, at Jiangnan Shipyard on 17 June 2022. Displacing more than 80,000 tonnes, and with a flight deck some 320m long, Fujian approaches the size of American Nimitz – and Ford-class supercarriers. The Pentagon expects Fujian to become operational next year.
Apart from its greater size compared to China’s two preceding carriers, the most notable thing about the conventionally powered Fujian is its catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) configuration, which utilises three electromagnetic aircraft launch systems. The PLAN has completely bypassed steam catapults.
APDR asked Dr. Su Tz-Yun, Associate Researcher and Director, Division of Defense Resources and Industries, at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR) in Taiwan, about the Type 003:
Chinese Navy can not project power very far. Their carriers all use conventional engines and do not compete with American Carriers in ability to stay at sea. There inability to move without refueling make China’s carriers easy targets.
That’s not really any different from US Aircraft Carriers. Although the US Carriers themselves are all nuclear powered (which allows them to carry more munitions and aviation fuel), all their escorts are high fuel consumption range limited Burke class DDGs, approx 4400nmi at 20 knots. A US carrier is not going anywhere without it’s escorts. As a result the US Navy is still relient on it’s refuelling fleet and work wide network of bases.
Chinese is busy building up a network of naval bases for itself on every continent except North America and Europe (although they would likely have access to Russian ports), and they have a very large replenishment fleet 2nd only to the United States in size and scale. (larger than the rest of Nato put together outside of the US)
Another thing to think about the Chinese Navy was on site to evacuate it’s citizens well before the US Navy got there. (likely thanks to it’s naval base it Djibouti)
So although they can’t project power like the US Navy can yet, they are rapidly working to close the gap.
In a decade or twos time it’s likely the only advantage the US Navy will retain over the Chinese Navy is in subsurface warfare.