CSIC Accelerates Work on Nuclear-Powered Carriers

The Liaoning (file image)

By The Maritime Executive 2018-02-28 13:58:00

Chinese state-owned shipbuilder CSIC says that it is speeding up its R&D efforts on nuclear propulsion for carriers and subs, ultra-quiet submarine systems, "maritime unmanned confrontation systems," naval electronic warfare and "three-dimensional offensive and defensive systems." The People's Liberation Army (Navy) has already signaled its interest in the development of nuclear-powered carriers, but state-affiliated Global Times suggested that this is the first time that a Chinese defense company has declared its intentions in the field. 

"In the future, China's national interests will continue to expand overseas. Without a fleet of large nuclear-powered vessels, the Chinese navy cannot sail for a long time to faraway waters," said Beijing-based defense expert Li Jie, speaking to the Global Times. 

The PLA(N) has taken a gradual approach to carrier development. Its first carrier, the Soviet-built Liaoning, is a sister ship of the Russian Navy's Admiral Kuznetsov. She was purchased as an unfinished hull and fitted out over a four-year yard period at CSIC Dalian Shipbuilding. Liaoning has been in service as a training ship for Chinese pilots since 2012. Like the Kuznetsov, she is a jump-ramp carrier and lacks catapults. 

The first Chinese-built carrier hull, the Type 001A, is a close replica of the Liaoning. She was launched in April 2017 at CSIC Dalian Shipbuilding, and is currently being fitting out. Commissioning is expected in 2020.

The second Chinese-built carrier, the Type 002, will be built around a conventionally fueled integrated electric propulsion system, which will allow her main engines to divert electrical power to an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS). EMALS is an American technology designed to replace steam catapults; it is intended to reduce maintenance requirements and increase sortie rates, but in U.S. Navy testing it has not yet developed its expected potential. 

The PLA(N) has used each successive generation to learn more about carrier construction and operation. Li Jie suggested that new propulsion systems (likely nuclear) could make a debut with China's fourth aircraft carrier design.