China has been making steady progress building its third aircraft carrier, the first expected to rival the "supercarriers" of the U.S. fleet in size and capability, according to satellite photos and analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
China's Global Times tabloid, viewed as an organ of the Chinese Communist Party, reported Sept. 13 that the new carrier could be launched late this year or early next.
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The tabloid also cited an unnamed military expert as saying that the new carrier will "likely" feature an electromagnetic aircraft launch system, similar to the newest operational U.S. aircraft carrier, the Gerald R. Ford. The 10 other carriers in the U.S. fleet use steam-powered catapults to launch aircraft.
CSIS said that it is not yet possible to assess whether the new carrier will have an electromagnetic launch system, "but unofficial sources suggest that China has made significant headway in developing this technology."
In its report Wednesday, CSIS included high-resolution satellite photos showing the carrier laid out in hull blocks at the Jiangnan shipyard on the outskirts of Shanghai.
CSIS estimated the length of the hull blocks at 297 meters, or 974 feet, but added, "As construction continues, we expect the vessel to lengthen by several meters with the addition of the flight deck."
By comparison, the Ford's length is 1,106 feet.
China currently has two carriers -- the Liaoning, a converted Soviet-era warship, and the domestically-built Shandong. Both feature "ski jump" sloped flight decks to launch aircraft.
In its annual report to Congress on China's military strength issued Sept. 1, the Defense Department estimated that China's third aircraft carrier could be operational by 2023.
The report also said that China's military has already surpassed the U.S. in missile development, number of warships and air defense systems.
The CSIS report on China's new carrier was issued the same day that Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced a new plan for the Navy to build out the U.S. fleet to 355 ships or more, overhaul shipyards and construct unmanned surface and submarine combatants -- if funding becomes available.
China currently "cannot match the U.S. when it comes to naval power," he said, adding, "We must stay ahead, we must retain our overmatch, and we will keep building."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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