The new warship is also said to be based on technology that China has tricked Europe into acquiring. Satellite images now show how the shipyard is installing the centerpiece – the electromagnetic catapults.
China’s first completely self-developed aircraft carrier is apparently just weeks away from being launched. This is suggested by LiveEO’s analysis of recent satellite imagery. The ship, with the type designation 003, has been under construction at the Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai since 2019. Otherwise, this produces mainly large container ships. Meanwhile, according to the images, the flight deck of the carrier and the so-called island with the bridge have been placed on the hull. Between keel laying and completion of the approximately 320-meter-long main structure, just over a year passed.
Military strategists are now likely to be particularly interested in the long tent-like covers at the front of the ship. The catapults that will later accelerate the aircraft during takeoff will be installed under these. China’s first two aircraft carriers, 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 onboard.
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 United States’ military supremacy 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 that make an early launch likely. For example, two huge openings in the flight deck were closed, apparently used previously to admit diesel engines and power generators into the hull. Behind the ship, there is now another large hull section for a container ship that needs to be moved out of the way.
Photographs of the first Class 002 aircraft carrier built by China suggest that it will be years after the launch, however, before the ship can finally be handed over to the Chinese Navy. For example, it still has to be fitted out internally and undergo tests at sea. The U.S. Department of Defense expects 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.