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Meet the Type 003: China’s Largest Aircraft Carrier Ever

China Type 003 Aircraft Carrier
Image: Chinese Internet.

China’s Type 003 Aircraft Carrier, Explained

It may currently be the “Year of the Tiger” in the Chinese zodiac, but the People’s Republic of China could soon launch the Type 003, its newest – and largest – aircraft carrier as part of the upcoming “Dragon Boat Festival.” The shipyard in Shanghai where the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) aircraft carrier was laid down, is now preparing for the upcoming launch.

The Type 003 is the largest warship ever constructed in China.

Last week, the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration issued a notice calling for berths to be cleared for an operation at the No. 3 and No. 4 docks at the Jiangnan Shipyard on Changxing Island, where the warship is under construction. That operation will likely take place on Monday between 5:30 am and 4 pm local time, and could involve five platforms, three tugboats, and two salvage ships, South China Morning Post reported.

Naval experts have said that the launch of the Type 003 would suggest that the construction work in the dry dock has been completed, and it would next go through tests and equipment installation based on sea trials.

Most Advanced PLAN Aircraft Carrier

The PLAN currently operates two aircraft carriers, including the Liaoning, or Type 001 carrier, which was actually laid down in 1985 for the Soviet Navy during the Cold War as the Kuznetsov-class aircraft cruiser Riga. After the collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, construction was halted and the carrier was put up for sale by Ukraine.

The stripped hulk was purchased by a Chinese firm – reportedly to be converted into a floating hotel and casino. As the ship had been largely left to deteriorate in the elements, it seemed unlikely it would be used as a warship. However, it was eventually refurbished by the PLAN and became China’s first aircraft carrier.

The acquisition and refurbishment of the carrier helped jump-start China’s carrier program significantly, which resulted in the construction of Beijing’s first domestically-built carrier, Shandong (Type 002).

The Type 003 is seen as a “Great Leap Forward” for Beijing in its efforts to become a global superpower – but without all of the famine and death. The soon-to-be-launched carrier is reported to displace between 85,000 and 100,000 tons, and the hull is approximately 300 meters (984 feet) in length, while the flight deck could have a width of 78 meters. The ship would be far longer and much wider than its predecessors.

It is also the first Chinese aircraft carrier to utilize a CATOBAR system and electromagnetic (EM) launch catapults for the launch and recovery from the flight deck. The Type 003 is expected to be named the Jiangsu, in line with the protocol of naming the vessels after coastal provinces from north to south.

Failure to Launch?

There had previously been speculation that the launch of the carrier was to have occurred on April 23, which marked the 73rd anniversary of the PLAN, but it was reportedly delayed due to an outbreak of Covid-19 in Shanghai. A Chinese military source had said that the shipyard was scrambling to catch up after Covid-19 restrictions were finally lifted.

As a result, the carrier will take place as part of the annual Dragon Boat Festival, the traditional Chinese holiday that occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar. It typically corresponds to late May or early June in the Gregorian calendar, and is one of the four top traditional Chinese festivals, along with the Spring Festival, Tomb-Sweeping Day, and Mid-Autumn Festival.

Video: Finally! China’s third aircraft carrier ‘to be launched on Dragon Boat Festival’

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.