China’s New 70,000 Ton Carrier Sets Out for Maiden Sea Trials; How Capable is the Type 001?

The second aircraft carrier of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, the Type 001, has begun its first sea trials to prepare it for entry into active service. China’s Xinhua news stated regarding the development: “Our country’s second aircraft carrier set sail from its dock in the Dalian shipyard for relevant waters to conduct a sea trial mission, mainly to inspect and verify the reliability and stability of mechanical systems and other equipment.”

The carrier represents the first to be built fully indigenously, with its predecessor the Liaoning purchased partly built from Ukraine and completed in China. The warship was launched on April 26th 2017, and outfitting with weapons and internal systems was completed on April 25th 2018. It is set to be commissioned in to service in late 2018.

The Type 001 is heavily based on the carrier Liaoning, which in turn is based on the Soviet Kuznetsov Class design. These warships, while among the heaviest in the world, are not designed for offensive power projection and powered by conventional steam turbines which restricts their range.

They are instead designed for operations near China’s coasts. The carriers are to operate J-15 Flying Shark heavy air superiority fighters, platforms designed to engage hostile combat aircraft at sea deploying advanced PL-12 long range missiles while also being able to strike hostile warships with anti ship rounds. Their lack of advanced air to ground capabilities reflects their role – defending China’s maritime claims in the South and East China seas – much as the Kuznetsov Class was designed to defend Soviet coasts in Europe and the Pacific.

The Type 001 carrier can deploy a contingent of approximately 40 aircraft, and alongside the J-15 it is also set to deploy the new J-15D/J-17 electronic attack aircraft – a platform designed with an analogous role to the U.S. EA-18G growler. The carrier may also deploy KJ-600 electronic airborne early warning aircraft, which will serve as a force multiplier for its fighter contingent.

The warship is heavily armed with its own defensive weapons, which include HQ-10 surface to air missile batteries and Type 1130 point defence systems – used to intercept incoming missiles and aircraft. While formidable, the Type 001 is somewhat constrained by its lack of a steam or electromagnetic catapults, a feature found on U.S. supercarriers and France’s Charles De Gaulle warship, which allow the carriers to launch aircraft with a greater weight – deploying more weapons and carrying more fuel for superior combat capabilities and a long range.

The Type 001 instead relies on a ski jump takeoff ramp, meaning that while the J-15 is in many ways more capable than carrier based fighters deployed by rival naval powers, it will suffer a handicap if engaging them in the air. Future Chinese carriers are set to deploy electromagnetic catapults similar to those on the United States Navy’s latest carrier, USS Gerald Ford, which will put the PLA warships on par with the most capable carriers in the world.

While the Type 001 itself remains a valuable asset for the defence of increasingly contested maritime regions, its construction is also a key stepping stone for Chinese shipbuilding industries to develop world leading warships in future. Construction of the heavier and more capable Type 002 and Type 003 carriers are already well under way.

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