New nuclear aircraft carriers and state-of-the-art carrier-borne fighter jets will join China’s revamped navy by 2035, local military experts say. It’s part of an ambitious push to modernize and overtake the US in the Pacific.
The drive will see Beijing build at least six aircraft battlegroups that will be available for missions on the high seas by 2035. Four of these will be nuclear-powered, Chinese specialists familiar with the program told the South China Morning Post.
The experts added that the carriers will also come equipped with electromagnetic catapults similar to the EMALS system used on their US counterparts. This will allow fighters to be launched faster than they were on older diesel-powered vessels.
At present, the Chinese Navy operates only one diesel-powered aircraft carrier, the ‘Liaoning.’ Commissioned in 2012, this was originally purchased half-built from Ukraine following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Currently serving as a training vessel for aircraft carrier crew, it’s been reported that the ‘Liaoning’ will be resold to Pakistan after a “large-scale upgrade.” It aims to help Pakistan “compete” with India’s own carrier buildup.
China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, is still undergoing sea trials, but is expected to enter service in April ahead of the Navy’s 70th anniversary in October.
The US Navy, by comparison, boasts 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, and has nine other amphibious ships that could be utilized as carrier vessels in a time of war.
However, Chinese military planners are eagerly racing to close the gap and money is seemingly no object, even as the ongoing trade war with the US is hurting both economies.
Wang Yunfei, a former officer and naval warfare expert, told the SCMP that Beijing “needs to keep developing until it is at the same level” as the US.
“Even if the economic downturn has an effect, we can adjust proportions in total military expenditure to make sure naval modernization keeps going,” he added, suggesting cutbacks could be made to the number of new tanks produced.
Cash is also being poured into designs for a new carrier-borne stealth fighter, the fighting capability of which Wang believes may only be “a little bit behind” that of the costly US F-35.
Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator, said Chinese technology would soon be on par with US fighters and carriers, but warned that superior hardware was only “part of the picture.”