Satellite photos show China's progress on the new aircraft carrier expected to give its naval power a boost

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Satellite photos show China's progress on the new aircraft carrier expected to give its naval power a boost
China has two carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong, and a third one is on the way.STR/AFP via Getty Images
  • A new analysis features high-res satellite photos of China's latest carrier under construction.
  • China has two carriers based on an older design, but the new one should be a significant upgrade.
  • The photos show China's "substantial progress" on its new carrier, CSIS experts said.

A new satellite photo shows China making "substantial progress" on its newest aircraft carrier, according to a new analysis.

Photos of the new carrier, under construction at Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, have been leaking out online over the past several weeks, some images clearer than others.

This week, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, DC think tank, released an analysis of the carrier's development with high-resolution satellite photos of the new carrier from Maxar Technologies.

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Satellite photos show China's progress on the new aircraft carrier expected to give its naval power a boost
A Maxar Technologies high-resolution satellite photo shows China's third aircraft carrier under construction at Jiangnan Shipyard.CSIS/Maxar Technologies 2021

The Chinese navy has two aircraft carriers - the Liaoning and Shandong. The first ship was built from the refitted hull of an older Soviet vessel, and the other is a Chinese-built copy of the first, with some improvements.

Satellite photos show China's progress on the new aircraft carrier expected to give its naval power a boost
LiaoningREUTERS/Stringer

The third carrier, a still unnamed ship known as Type 003, is expected to "significantly upgrade China's naval capabilities," CSIS senior fellows Matthew Funaiole and James Bermudez Jr. and associate fellow Brian Hart wrote Tuesday in their satellite imagery analysis.

"When the Type 003 eventually enters service, it will be a formidable addition to China's navy and allow it to more effectively project power," they wrote.

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Building a larger, more modern carrier

Likely similar in size to the US Navy's Kitty Hawk-class carriers - a decommissioned class of steam-powered flattops that were roughly 1,070 feet long - the third carrier is expected to be the Chinese navy's largest surface warship, the CSIS experts assessed.

Additionally, the ship is expected to feature a smaller command center, or "island," and a much larger flight deck than its predecessors, freeing up space for a larger carrier air wing than the roughly 40 fixed-wing and rotary aircraft carried by the Liaoning and Shandong.

Satellite photos show China's progress on the new aircraft carrier expected to give its naval power a boost
A Maxar Technologies high-resolution satellite photo shows the "island" on China's third aircraft carrier, which is likely to house the ship's pilothouse and air traffic control station.CSIS/Maxar Technologies 2021

Though work on the flight deck is incomplete, there are indications that it will feature a more modern flat-top design, almost certainly with catapults, as opposed to the less efficient ski jumps seen on the other two carriers.

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The ski jump design of the first two carriers has put limitations on how much weaponry and fuel the heavy J-15 carrier-based fighters can launch with, reducing the combat power of the carrier.

Satellite photos show China's progress on the new aircraft carrier expected to give its naval power a boost
ShandongGetty Images

Steam catapults or the newer electromagnetic aircraft launch system would likely solve that problem, and they would also allow the carrier to launch larger aircraft like early warning planes able to boost situational awareness.

China's third carrier is expected to be conventionally-powered. There has, however, been speculation that follow-on carriers could be nuclear-powered, like the US Navy's current fleet of Nimitz- and Ford-class carriers.

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The CSIS report said that progress on the carrier is moving at the same pace as the construction of the Shandong, suggesting that the new ship may not be launched until next year. It could then be several more years before China gets it fitted out, through sea trials, and commissioned into service.

"It is not a US carrier, as things are today," Funaiole recently told Insider, speaking of China's third aircraft carrier, "but it's still a huge step for China. It's impressive what they have been able to do in a short amount of time."

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