China Could Have 4 Aircraft Carriers by 2022. The People’s Liberation Army Navy is modernizing at a breakneck pace. Chinese shipbuilders have built more than one hundred warships in the past decade, a build rate outstripping the mighty U.S. Navy.
Most importantly, China now has two aircraft carriers—Liaoning and the second ship under sea trials—and a third and possibly fourth ship under construction. With such a massive force under construction it’s worth asking: where does PLA naval aviation go from here?
Today, China has two aircraft carriers: the ex-Soviet carrier Liaoning, and a second unnamed ship, Type 002, currently undergoing sea trials.
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The second ship, Type 002 (previously referred to as Type 001A) resembles Liaoning but with a handful of improvements, including an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar the carrier’s island and a larger flight deck. Experts believe Type 002 will carry slightly more fighters than her older sibling, up to thirty J-15 jets in all.
The third ship of yet another class is under construction at the Jiangnan Shipyard at Shanghai, with credible reports of a fourth ship of the same class under construction at Dalian. This new class, designated Type 003, is the first Chinese carrier constructed using a modern, modular construction method.
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The modules, known as “super lift” each weigh hundreds of tons, are assembled on land and then hoisted onto the ship in drydock.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy carrier fleet is a rapidly growing force shaping up to be a powerful, flexible tool of statecraft and war. Beijing could realistically have four aircraft carriers by 2022—a remarkable feat of military construction. All of this lead to a number of unsolved questions.
To what end is Beijing building this force?
How many carriers will the PLAN ultimately build?
Is China growing a carrier force meant to protect its interests or expand them? We simply don’t know—but we will certainly find out.
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