The new warship is also said to be based on technology that China tricked Europe into acquiring. Satellite images now show how the shipyard is installing the centerpiece – the electromagnetic catapults.
China continues to upgrade its navy: The first completely self-developed aircraft carrier was launched this Friday. Analysis of the latest satellite images from LiveEO shows how the ship with the type designation 003 has been built at the Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai since 2019. Otherwise, this mainly produces large container ships. Just over a year passed between the laying of the keel and the completion of the approximately 320-meter-long main structure of the ship, which has been christened “Fujian.”
Military strategists will be particularly interested in the long, tent-like covers at the front of the ship. Under these, the catapults were installed to accelerate the aircraft later during takeoff. China’s first two aircraft carriers, which are still based on the Russian Admiral Kuznetsov-class design, have only a kind of jumping ramp. A catapult, however, is much more efficient, allowing heavier aircraft to take off from the carrier. Accordingly, they can take more weapons and fuel on board.
The exclusive images from LiveEO show that there will be a total of three catapults on deck. And they are causing a stir for another reason. Unlike most U.S. aircraft carriers, they will apparently not be powered by steam, but by state-of-the-art electromagnetic technology, according to Janes, the U.S. defense analysis service. Similar to a magnetic levitation train, a sled is accelerated with enormous propulsion, into which the aircraft is hooked.
Today, this electromagnetic catapult serves as warning evidence that Western high technology can end up with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army via a detour of private-sector investment. In 2008, the locomotive manufacturer Zhuzhou CRRC Times Electric from China acquired a majority stake in the British company Dynex Power. That had developed a switch, innocuous at first glance, that could switch the supply of extreme amounts of electricity on and off super-fast. Normal transistors would be too slow for use in the catapult. According to media reports, these switches are now considered a technical centerpiece of the new aircraft carrier. According to security circles, China is repeatedly using foreign know-how to move closer to its goal of breaking the military supremacy of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region.
The U.S. think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which also analyzes satellite imagery, discovered significant changes between Sept. 18 and Oct. 23, 2021, that make an early launch likely. For example, two huge openings in the flight deck had been closed, apparently used previously to admit diesel engines and power generators into the hull. Behind the ship, a large hull section for a container ship was still stored and had to be moved out of the way.
However, it will be years before the Fujian is ready for service. The Ministry of Defense has not yet announced a date for commissioning. Thus, the aircraft carrier still has to undergo tests at sea. The U.S. Department of Defense expected the aircraft carrier to enter service in 2024.
Jiangnan Shipyard, located on an island in the mouth of the Yangtze River, is a so-called dual-use company that accepts both military and civilian orders. According to CSIS, two-thirds of its customers were not from China, but from countries such as Brazil, France, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, Sweden and the Netherlands.