China speeds up building aircraft carriers but will PLA sailors be trained for hi-tech ships in time?

Minnie Chan
·4-min read

A Chinese shipbuilder has stepped up construction of two new-generation aircraft carriers, while the People’s Liberation Army is accelerating its training programme to meet the needs of the hi-tech warships when they launch.

Two independent military sources told the South China Morning Post that the keel laying would start early this year for its fourth aircraft carrier. Work on its sister ship, the Type 002, has already started, and both ships will be equipped with the most advanced electromagnetic catapult launchers.

Construction work on the fourth giant ship had been postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the associated economic slowdown and some technical problems, the sources said.

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“The navy bought and prepared all the special steel for the fourth ship last year, with work on some vessel components being started,” said one of the sources, who requested anonymity.

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The latest online reports show China is increasing the hardware build-up to support its aircraft carrier projects, including a giant floating platform and a new shipyard.

On Monday, Shanghai-based Jiangnan Shipyard, which is building the Type 002, began a three-year base expansion project, according to a report published on social media by the shipbuilder’s mother company, China State Shipbuilding Corporation.

The 18 billion yuan (US$2.8 billion) complex, covering an area of more than 240 hectares (595 acres), will include shipbuilding research and design, indoor and outdoor dockyards, ship hull combination workshops, outfitting plants and outfitting quays, as well as other modern shipbuilding facilities with intelligent and automatic systems, the report said.

The report came several days after the Jiangnan Shipyard announced it had installed its first large giant floating dock and installed special equipment late last month.

The steel self-propelled dock with a length of 256 metres (840 feet), width of 60 metres and a lifting tower that can stretch over 30 metres, is capable of carrying a maximum cargo of 32,000 tonnes.

“The floating dock and new base project all indicate that China needs more space for new warship building because the existing shipyard in Shanghai’s Changxing Island is too crowded,” said Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at Taiwan’s Naval Academy in Kaohsiung.

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Lu said earlier satellite images showed that a Type 055 destroyer was being assembled at the same time as the Type 002’s hull.

“The floating dock will become a transfer platform for all kinds of ships before its launch, or other maintenance work,” Lu said.

“The floating platform and the expansion of Jiangnan Shipyard base will definitely help China’s military and commercial shipbuilding development. Beijing needs to use its profitable commercial shipbuilding to support the country’s ambitious naval vessel projects.”

Jiangnan Shipbuilding Company has deployed a giant floating dock. Photo: Handout
Jiangnan Shipbuilding Company has deployed a giant floating dock. Photo: Handout

China plans to build at least four aircraft carrier strike groups by 2030 to become the world’s number two modern blue water navy after the United States.

However, another military source said the PLA navy’s training is still lagging behind and crews would not be adequately trained by the time the warship was launched.

“That’s why the Chinese navy staged all-weather naval training last year,” the second source said.

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The PLA Navy’s most recent exercises include three 10-day exercises conducted simultaneously off the southern Chinese island of Hainan that started last Tuesday, and a five-day exercise further north in the Yellow Sea.

Military observers said the hardware build-up and naval training indicated that Beijing was pulling out all the stops to refine the country’s shipbuilding skills and personnel build-up, as China faced more new challenges at home and overseas amid escalating tensions with the US.

“The People’s Liberation Army is under great pressure because of the increasing traditional and non-traditional security challenges in China’s peripheral environment,” Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming, said.

“Beijing feels that it needs a strong military power as backup when dealing with various challenges, including the Covid-19 pandemic, [US President Donald] Trump’s decision to decouple, the political turmoil in Hong Kong, independence-leaning forces in Taiwan and other problems.”

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