China unveils its newest aircraft carriers – and they’ve left experts shocked at how advanced they are

The newest ship, so far known only as Type 001A (CV-17), is a reverse-engineered and much more powerful version of its Soviet-built Liaoning Type 001 (CV-16).

The £6.1bn vessel is believed to be headed towards a designated testing zone in the Bohai Sea, which has been declared a "no go zone" until April 28.

It’s an event that has military analysts in Japan, all of South East Asia, India, the United States — and Australia — sitting up and taking notice, reports.
Experts at China Power suggest the ship will be used to assert its territorial claims to the disputed South China Sea.

It means China now has two armed and operational aircraft carriers capable of projecting firepower far beyond its borders. It’s an event that further changes the balance of power in its favour.

The 70,000-tonne CV-17 looks very similar to the slightly smaller and lighter Liaoning but, under the bonnet, things are likely to be very different.

It's expected to carry about eight more aircraft than Liaoning, bringing its total to between 36 and 44, according to different military sources.

The CV-17's air wing will include between 24 and 32 J-15 multi-role fighters, six anti-submarine helicopters, four early-warning helicopters and two transport helicopters.

It is still much smaller than the jewel in the United States' seafaring arsenal, the 100,000-tonne USS Gerald Ford.

The 1,106ft long vessel – named after its 38th president – also carries more aircraft, crew and weapons systems.

On board are as many as 90 aircraft including Hornet, EA-18G and F-35c Jets, as well as C-2, E-2 and SH-60 helicopters.

The CV-17 is around the same size as the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy.

Weighing a hefty 72,000 tonnes, it can carry up to 36 F-35B Lightning II jets and Merlin jets for both airborne and anti-submarine warfare.

It can accommodate as many as 250 elite Royal Marines and the ability to support them with attack and transport helicopters including Chinooks.

"I think we can say that China has made major breakthroughs in the implementation of nuclear power on large vessels," Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Global Times late February.

He added: "Each carrier achieves some breakthroughs… The second absorbed and consolidated technologies from the first one."

Beijing media has previously quoted military sources as saying China wants at least six carriers, with four operational aircraft carrier battle groups active by 2030.

The United States currently operates 10 and is in the process of building two more.

Earlier this year, China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) said it plans to "speed up the process of making technological breakthroughs in nuclear-powered aircraft carriers".

It also mentioned "new-type nuclear submarines, quiet submarines, maritime unmanned intelligent confrontation systems and maritime three-dimensional offensive and defensive systems".

Li went on to say the evolution of Chinese carriers would send a message to the world.

Meanwhile, Beijing’s building two more: Work on aircraft carrier Type 002 resumed in May last year. It’s also believed first metal was cut for the construction of Type 003 in December.

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