Vital components haven’t arrived and shipyard workers have been confined to their homes, quashing plans to unveil the ship earlier in April, according to the South China Morning Post.
“The People’s Liberation Army Navy had been widely expected to launch the new carrier around the navy’s 73rd anniversary, on April 23,” said the newspaper.
The Type 003 carrier – under construction at the Jiangnan Shipyard since 2017 — will be the third of China’s growing fleet of carriers, and the most advanced. At about 100,000 tons, it will be bigger than the two earlier carriers – the Liaoning and the Shandong — that weigh in at 60,000 to 70,000 tons. More significant is that while the first two carriers are ski-jump designs limited to short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft, the Type 003 will be an American-style flat-deck design equipped with electromagnetic catapults that can launch heavier planes.
“Recent satellite image from Google Earth showed construction of the nearly 320-metre-long platform is almost completed,” the Post noted. “According to the photos, covers have been put over the vessel’s three catapults, indicating they are ready, but the two elevators to lift aircraft from the carrier’s hangars have not been fitted fully.”
China’s draconian zero-Covid policy, which favors strict lockdowns over mass vaccination, aims to eradicate the coronavirus rather than manage it as most nations have opted to do. Shanghai has recently become the focus of the controversial policy after a five-week lockdown. This has sparked unusually public protests – at least in China — from residents who complain of insufficient food, as well as harsh measures such as mandatory confinement to prison-like “treatment centers” and children being separated from parents.
Anti-pandemic measures have disrupted manufacturing and supply chains around the world. It was only to be expected that lockdowns would disrupt activity in a major shipbuilding center such as Shanghai, whose dockyards construct both military and civilian vessels.
But politics is another reason why the launch ceremony has been delayed, the Post said. Chinese officials don’t want to get sick. “A big ceremony needs a lot of people,” an unnamed source told the newspaper. “But it’s too risky and difficult to get too many people together in the limited space of an aircraft carrier, given how contagious the Omicron variant is.”
Delays in finishing the Type 003 carrier could set back the completion of other ships in China’s growing navy, including two naval supply vessels under construction in Shanghai. “Construction work of the two naval supply ships will only start when the aircraft carrier’s dockyard is empty. But now everything is stuck,” the source said.
Aircraft carriers are the centerpiece of the Chinese navy’s plans to overturn U.S. naval power, which would be key to thwarting a Chinese amphibious invasion of Taiwan. China is currently expected to build four carriers, with the fourth likely to be nuclear-powered.
A seasoned defense and national security writer and expert, Michael Peck is a contributing writer for Forbes Magazine. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy Magazine, Defense News, The National Interest, and other publications. He can be found on Twitter and Linkedin.