China’s first homemade aircraft carrier left her home port of Dalian for her third sea trial on Oct. 28, 2018. The Type 001A flattop could commission into frontline service as early as 2019, according to the U.S. Defense Department — growing Beijing’s carrier force to two and giving China the world’s second-biggest flattop fleet.
The new trial will test the vessel’s weapons system, control system and communications system, Wang Yunfei, a retired Chinese navy officer, told Global Times.
The 55,000-ton carrier, which Beijing reportedly will name Shandong, is a modified version of Liaoning, China’s first flattop. Liaoning is the ex-Varyag, which the Soviet Union built in the 1980s but never commissioned.
China acquired the incomplete vessel in 1998. Liaoning commissioned into the Chinese fleet in 2012. Carrying J-15 fighters and helicopters, Liaoning deployed to the western Pacific in April 2018 for her first realistic war game.
Shandong, if that indeed is the new carrier’s name, shares Liaoning’s layout and limitations. Lacking catapults, she launches planes by way of a bow-mounted ramp. That arrangement places hard limits on how heavy Liaoning’s aircraft can be — and how much weaponry and fuel they can carry.
The U.S. Navy’s own carriers use steam catapults to launch aircraft weighing as much as 50 tons. By contrast, Lianong’s ramp layout probably limits aircraft to a maximum weight of 30 tons