02 October 2016

China Working on a Conventional Aircraft Carrier

Note the towbar on the front gear
They are already in the process of developing a CATOBAR variant of the Flanker:
China has stepped up development of Catapult-Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) operations for its carriers, with the appearance of a Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark carrier-borne fighter with CATOBAR apparatus and continued construction of supporting land-based infrastructure.

In mid-September photos surfaced online of a J-15 with what appears to be a catapult launch bar on its nose wheel. These are used to couple the aircraft to the catapult of the carrier during the launch sequence, and would be the latest indication that China’s rumored third aircraft carrier will utilize the CATOBAR system of aircraft launch and recovery.

It is not clear whether this aircraft is a new-build prototype for the CATOBAR J-15, or one of the six original J-15 prototypes modified with a new nose wheel. Also noteworthy is that this J-15 is powered by the indigenous Shenyang-Liming WS-10 Taihang turbofan. Although already in widespread use with China’s land-based J-11 fighters, the Chinese engine has never gone to sea during trials and operations on China’s current sole aircraft carrier, Liaoning.
This is not a surprise.

While getting the operations right (an aircraft carrier deck is a dangerous place) is a non trivial matter, the basic technology of steam catapult launches is over 60 years old.

As an aside, the Chinese are proceeding on this incrementally, so I would rather expect that their 1st carrier with a catapult to be in the size range somewhere between the Clemenceau (25,000 T) and the Charles de Gaulle (48,000 T) size, much smaller than a typical supercarrier (~100,000 T).

I would expect China to field a CATOBAR carrier as a part of a full carrier group in the next 7-12 ears.


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