Tracking China’s third aircraft carrier

Tracking China’s third aircraft carrier
Tracking China’s third aircraft carrier
Tracking China’s third aircraft carrier Top

    The construction of China’s third aircraft carrier appears to be progressing at Shanghai’s Jiangnan Shipyard.1 Commercial satellite imagery collected on September 18, 2019 shows significant new activity since our last report on May 6, 2019. At that time, our analysis concluded that the large vessel under construction at Jiangnan is consistent with what is expected to be the third aircraft carrier of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Imagery from September reveals incremental progress on the vessel’s construction and significant enhancements to the surrounding infrastructure.

    The vessel remains in the early stages of construction. Although environmental shelters hide much of the ongoing activity, portions of the vessel’s hull are visible. The latest imagery confirms earlier estimates that the water-level beam of the hull will measure approximately 40 meters in length. What appears to be the vessel’s stern is also partially visible near the launching way, which is consistent with expectations that the vessel will be launched stern-first. The stern appears unfinished and will likely see further additions that will make the vessel’s rear more rounded. What is exposed of the ship’s bow tapers from a width of 38 meters to 34 meters.

    A second tower crane has been added to the assembly facility, suggesting that construction is progressing steadily. These tower cranes will be used to lower prefabricated components into the hull. While they are partially obscured by a gantry crane in the satellite imagery, low-altitude imagery corroborates the presence of the new tower crane.

    Prefabricated ship components await assembly near the vessel’s hull and on the roads adjacent to the assembly facility. These components include internal deck sections measuring approximately 12 meters by 27 meters in size, which will in time be positioned within the hull. There are also several bulkheads, each measuring approximately 39 meters in length, which will be affixed to different portions of the ship. Additionally, there are two tapered hull components (approximately 38 meters in length) that could be used to form part of the v-shaped portion of the bow.

    Given the current status of the vessel and the pace of construction thus far, hull construction is likely to continue for approximately the next 12 months. Once the hull is completed, internal components and deck sections will be added. This will be followed by the addition of the vessel’s superstructure (the features that appear above the main deck), such as the island (assuming the vessel is in fact an aircraft carrier). During this stage, workers will need to remove the environmental shelters, which should allow for a more complete view of the vessel.

    Significant progress has been made on the newly constructed basin where the vessel is likely to be outfitted. Work has begun on what appears to be an approximately 940-meter-long dock on the eastern side of the basin. A new seawall is being added across from the dock, where the existing flood control system and surrounding sediment are waiting to be removed. When completed, the new basin is expected to be nearly three times larger than the existing floodable basin situated within the military shipyard.

    The presence of a dredger and a barge hauling dredged material indicates that efforts to deepen and clear out the basin are ongoing. Two crane barges can also be seen driving piles into the basin floor to improve the basin’s stability. The reinforcement of the basin floor suggests that the area is being prepared for berthing and fitting-out large vessels.

    The upgrades to the new basin adjacent to the assembly facility suggest that (once launched) the vessel will be outfitted in the basin. However, it would not be unreasonable for the vessel to be moved elsewhere within Jiangnan Shipyard as progress continues.

    Chinese Aircraft Carrier Comparison
    Type 001A Third carrier
    Design Chinese Chinese
    Length 315m
    Beam 75m
    Waterline Beam 35m 40m (estimated)
    Launch Type STOBAR CATOBAR
    Displacement 66,000 – 70,000 tons 80,000 – 85,000 tons (estimated)
    Propulsion Conventional Conventional
    Shipyard of Origin Dalian Jiangnan
    Figures for the third carrier are likely to change as more information becomes available.

    Various unofficial reports speculate that the conventionally-powered third carrier will be larger than its predecessors and will feature an electromagnetic catapult launch system. The carrier is projected to be operational by 2022. ChinaPower

    Previous Updates

    Our previous satellite imagery analysis is available below. To learn more about China’s aircraft carrier program, see our features on China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, and China’s first domestically-built carrier. For more updates, follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our podcast.

    May 2019

    Commercial satellite imagery collected on April 17, 2019 showed significant new activity since ChinaPower first analyzed Jiangnan Shipyard in late 2018. At the new assembly facility to the southeast of the existing shipyard, there was evidence of a large vessel being assembled and a floodable basin being constructed. ChinaPower concluded that the large vessel was consistent with what is expected for the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) third aircraft carrier.

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    What appeared to be the bow and main hull sections of the vessel were visible through the clouds and mist. The bow section was assessed to measure approximately 22.5 meters-long and taper from a width of approximately 34 meters down to approximately 30 meters.

    The haze in the image and the image’s resolution made it difficult to determine if the bow section was resting on a construction platform or if the reddish sections extending forward and aft of the partially assembled section were part of the bow itself. If measured to include these components, the hull section had an overall length of approximately 48 meters.

    The main hull section was partially hidden by both mist and rail-mounted environmental shelters, making it difficult to accurately measure its length at this time. The main hull section, however, appeared to be approximately 40 meters wide.

    Also visible at the new assembly facility were several prefabricated sections. These sections were laid out on the ground adjacent to the hull assembly and distributed on the surrounding road network that leads to the new assembly facility to the south and southeast. Since ChinaPower first analyzed the area, the construction of a new tower crane had also begun.

    Immediately south of the new assembly facility is a semi-flooded area, which at that time appeared to be in the process of being converted to a floodable ship basin. Construction of what is likely a seawall on the east side of this area has been ongoing since late 2018. A seawall, or a launching channel, is a necessity for any vessels being constructed at the new assembly facility. At that time, there was no access to the river to launch vessels. It is unclear if the shipyard’s road network could support the load of transporting large components to the main shipyard.

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    December 2018

    When ChinaPower first analyzed imagery of Jiangnan Shipyard in December 2018, details regarding China’s third carrier were extremely limited. It was not until November 27, 2018 that the existence of the third carrier was officially confirmed by China’s official news agency, Xinhua. At that time, various unofficial reports speculated that the carrier was either being built within the existing commercial shipyard or at the new assembly facility under construction to the southeast of the military shipyard.

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    Satellite imagery from late 2018 provided limited insight. This imagery did show that the new fabrication/assembly facility was still under construction and that the adjacent potential wet basin was not yet suitable for launching vessels, as it had not been dredged and lacked a connection to the Yangtze River. Imagery also showed some unidentified construction along the south bank of the probable wet basin.

    Jiangnan Shipyard
    Jiangnan Shipyard plays a vital role in the PLAN’s modernization. Learn more about the shipyard’s infrastructure and the ongoing naval activity at Jiangnan.

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    1. Some sources have referred to the vessel as the Type 002, while others call it the Type 003. To avoid confusion, we have opted to simply refer to it as China’s third aircraft carrier.