China’s Fujian aircraft carrier is making progress toward its scheduled handover to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in 2025. Recent developments indicate that the carrier’s electromagnetic catapult systems have successfully completed debugging, paving the way for sea trials.
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Chinese aircraft carrier Fujian (Picture source: Xinwen Lianbo Chinese Media )
Song Zhongping, a former PLA instructor, confirmed that the removal of protective covers from the electromagnetic catapults signifies their operational readiness. “This allows the aircraft launch systems to function during sea trials,” Song said.
Images circulating on Chinese social media platforms showed smoke emanating from Fujian’s chimney, indicating that the main propulsion system and other equipment are undergoing rigorous testing. Song noted that the first sea trials would be confined to nearshore waters and could last for at least a year. The trials will focus on evaluating the carrier’s propulsion, navigation, and communication systems.
The Fujian is expected to feature the J-15T, an upgraded, catapult-type version of China’s only ship-borne fighter jet, the J-15 “Flying Shark.” Satellite imagery from the PLA’s training base near Xingcheng in northeastern Liaoning province revealed that troops have been training for J-15T take-off and landing operations since 2016.
China is also in the process of developing a new generation of carrier-based stealth fighters that could rival the U.S. Navy’s F-35C jets. The Fujian itself is the world’s second aircraft carrier to use an electromagnetic catapult system, following the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered Gerald R. Ford class.
Initially designed with conventional steam-powered catapults, the Fujian underwent a design change in 2017 following a directive from President Xi Jinping. The carrier was retrofitted with an integrated propulsion system capable of powering advanced electromagnetic launch systems.
With a displacement exceeding 80,000 tonnes, the Fujian is the first in the PLA Navy’s Type 003 class of warships. It has been undergoing various tests since its launch last year, including mooring and propulsion tests at the Shanghai shipyard where it was constructed.
If all goes as planned, the Chinese aircraft carrier is expected to join the ranks of the Navy by 2025. What remains to be seen is the outcome of the next phase of testing and whether it will delay the Fujian’s arrival.