The Chinese regime’s third aircraft carrier Fujian was launched, and China’s state media claims the Fujian outperforms its two existing carriers. However, many experts point out that the Fujian has three significant flaws.
First, the US aircraft carrier is nuclear powered; the Fujian is conventionally powered
Matthew Funaiole, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) China Project, told CNN that there are signs that Fujian is lagging behind its U.S counterparts.
Funaiole added that U.S aircraft carriers have more catapults, larger channels, and more elevators to deploy aircraft more quickly.
According to ET, the weapon elevators on the USS Gerald R. Ford, America’s most advanced aircraft carrier, operate using various advanced technologies, including electromagnetic motors. Advanced technology enables fewer sailors to safely transfer ammunition from the arsenal to the cockpit with unparalleled speed and agility.
A Ford-class supercarrier can carry 85 aircraft, more than the entire fleet of some national air forces.
Funaiole said that all U.S. carriers are nuclear-powered, while the Fujian carrier is believed to be propelled by conventional steam power, which would limit its range.
Second, Fujian forces the Chinese military to face new operational challenges
According to Financial Times, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said the Chinese military would face the challenge of transitioning from a “slip-jump” system used to launch an aircraft in its two current carriers to an electromagnetic catapult. That could delay the realization of the new ship’s operational capabilities.
Additionally, China has little experience deploying the right mix of support ships for carrier strike groups. These ships include destroyers and frigates to defend against attack from submarines and the air and to service and resupply the warships that makeup strike groups.
Financial Times quoted Meia Nouwens, a Chinese military expert with the IISS, as saying that although a big signal was sent to the outside world when China’s third aircraft carrier was launched, the problem China has is to equip and operate it.
Meia said, “The Liaoning is still exercising putting together a carrier strike group almost 10 years after it was handed over to the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] Navy.”
CNN quoted Alessio Patalano, a professor of warfare and strategy at King’s College in London, saying that modern aircraft carriers have “incredibly complex capabilities.” After developing the technology, there’s still a long way to go to use it effectively.
He said, “This complexity is the result of both the difficulty to develop and harmonize technologies to operate air wings from a moving platform, and from the challenge of constructing a ‘group’ of warships to support and protect it.’”
Third, the Fujian faces the problem of manpower and equipment
The Financial Times reported that Hsu Yen-chi, a researcher at the Taipei Council for Strategic and Warfare Studies, said the Chinese military’s biggest problem is that they don’t have enough qualified manpower to operate an aircraft carrier. Besides, China also lacks suitable aircraft for aircraft carriers.
Hsu said, “The goal [of China’s military] is to achieve a strategic balance with the U.S. in the western Pacific, plus consolidate control of the South China Sea.”
Hsu added. “The normal set-up would be 40 fighter aircraft per carrier, but if you look at their latest exercise, they have only 20. So they are very far from where they want to be.”
AP cited Ridzwan Rahmat, an analyst at Jane’s Center for Military and Security Assessment Intelligence, saying that China is not believed to have developed an aircraft that could fully realize the potential of the new aircraft carrier.
A western military official told Financial Times, “The key differences will be catapult compatibility [on the carrier with aircraft], advanced datalinks and radar systems, and of course a bigger payload including beyond-visual range missiles.”
Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, said, “The challenge in judging a carrier program is looking beyond the ship’s construction.”
Schuster said the prototype of China’s new generation of carrier-based aircraft, the J-31, is a fifth-generation aircraft similar to the U.S. Navy’s F-35 fighter jet. However, since developing and manufacturing the J-31 will take several years and it takes time to form a deployable carrier air wing, Schuster estimates that the Fujian Ship will not be fully operational until 2026.