April 21, 2024

China Confirms It’s Building a 4th Aircraft Carrier—and the Tables Are Turning

China Confirms It’s Building a 4th Aircraft Carrier—and the Tables Are Turning

China Confirms It’s Building a 4th Aircraft Carrier—and the Tables Are Turning

By Kyle Mizokami
12 March 2024

China is reportedly building a fourth aircraft carrier, making it the second largest carrier power behind the United States. A report in Hong Kong state media claims that there will be an announcement “soon” on a new flat top, along with a release of technical details. The fourth carrier may be China’s first nuclear-powered surface ship—a major milestone in ship development and the key toward projecting Chinese military power abroad.

A reporter for the state-owned Hong Kong Commercial Daily questioned Chinese Navy Vice Admiral and political commissar Yuan Huazhi about whether or not China’s next carrier would be nuclear powered and what it would be named. Huazhi reportedly smiled when asked if the carrier would use nuclear propulsion and said there would be “an announcement soon.” He also said there were no technical bottlenecks in the construction of new carriers, and that there are no delays.

While the exchange does not sound like a definitive “yes,” multiple Chinese media outlets—including the South China Morning Post and the nationalist tabloid Global Times—have also reported the exchange as confirmation of a fourth ship.

“Political commissar” is an occupation specifically tasked with ensuring both that armed forces are properly indoctrinated in the “correct” political thought, and that sentiment running contrary to what the government wants—in this case, the Chinese Communist Party—is stamped out. There is no equivalent in U.S., NATO, Japanese, or other Western-oriented armies. Given that Yuan’s entire job is to make sure that people are given the right information and rumors are quashed, it seems unlikely he would hint that a fourth ship is forthcoming if there wasn’t one.

China has three aircraft carriers: Liaoning, Shandong, and Fujian. Liaoning began life as a Soviet navy carrier, but the USSR collapsed before it could be finished. The unfinished hull was sold in 1998 to a Hong Kong businessman with the stated intention of turning it into a floating casino, but it was transferred to the People’s Liberation Army Navy, which commissioned it in 2012 as an aircraft carrier. Liaoning uses a less efficient ski ramp instead of aircraft catapults.

Shandong (commissioned in 2019) also uses ski ramps, and was built from the ground up as a test of China’s ability to build carriers. Fujian (which only recently completed construction) was built without a ski ramp, and instead reportedly uses an electromagnetic aircraft launch system similar to the American EMALS system on Ford-class carriers.

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