At least three carriers needed to form combat effectiveness: expert
It could still be years before China's second aircraft carrier, the first such ship developed domestically, will be combat-ready, Chinese experts said Monday, after reports said that the flight deck is being installed and it could hit the water soon.
"The experience China has learned from the building and operations of the aircraft carrier Liaoning help us avoid delays [in building one]," Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Global Times, noting that it could be three to five years before the new carrier becomes combat-ready.
Satellite imagery of the Dalian shipyard on May 17 showed that the installation of flight deck segments was underway on the hull of the aircraft carrier, according to a Thursday report published on the website of the UK-based Jane's Defense Weekly.
Building aircraft carriers caters to China's increasing need for protection of both its territorial sovereignty and overseas interests, Guo Xiaobing, deputy head of the Institute of Security and Arms Control Studies under the China Institutes of Contemporary Internationals Relations, told the Global Times on Monday.
China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is a refitted Russian-made carrier delivered to the Chinese Navy on Sept 25, 2012. It has a full displacement of over 50,000 tons, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
"China needs at least three aircraft carriers to truly form battle effectiveness," Guo said, adding that there should be one cruising, one for training and one under maintenance.
In late May, the US-based magazine Popular Science reported that the ski ramp, bridge, and flight deck are the next major parts to be installed since the carrier has most of its hangar bay installed.
Installing the flight deck means the building of the carrier hull is near completion, Lan Yun, deputy editor-in-chief of the Beijing-based Modern Ships magazine, told the Global Times on Monday.
"The flight deck covers up the carrier's hull, which means the interior facilities, including the main engine, boiler, propulsion drives and major compartments have been assembled," Lan added.
Equipment installation and testing, including in the aircraft hangar, operational command room, communication room and engine compartment will still need time, Li said, adding that the ship's command bridge will then be installed.
So, despite the achievement of installing the flight deck, it will take approximately a year before the carrier can be launched, and another one or two years of outfitting before it officially enters service, Li said.
Similar to Liaoning
On December 31, 2015, China's Ministry of Defense spokesperson Yang Yujun confirmed the construction of the country's second aircraft carrier, which is also the first to be independently designed.
With a displacement of 50,000 tons, the carrier will be conventionally powered and will adopt the ski-jump takeoff method for fixed-wing fighters, according to Yang.
Choosing the ski-jump takeoff method, the same as the Liaoning, will help personnel trained on the latter quickly adapt, Lan said.
The similar design would also make it possible for the two carriers to share carrier-borne fighters once they form a battle group at sea, Lan said, noting it could contribute to operational planning and battle organization.
In the future, China is likely to adopt the catapult-assisted takeoff method when building another aircraft carrier, Li said, adding that otherwise, "it would affect fighting capacity."
The catapult-assisted takeoff can contribute to increases in aircraft operational rates as well as the fuel and bomb load of carrier-borne fighters, he said.
The new aircraft carrier will be larger than the Liaoning, though it will still carry the J-15, China's first-generation multipurpose carrier-borne fighter jet, said Yin Zhuo, a rear admiral and a senior researcher at the People's Liberation Army Navy Equipment Research Center, China National Radio's website cnr.cn reported in March.
Although the domestic carrier looks much like the Liaoning, it would have different ship-borne equipment, with its core systems, such as radar, communications and weapons, adopting the latest models, Li said.