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China’s Biggest Carrier Starts Sea Trial in Show of Power

In World
May 02, 2024

(Bloomberg) — China’s largest and most advanced warship has begun its first sea trial, paving the way for the country to enhance its navy’s capability to project power amid US concerns of Beijing’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.

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The Fujian, which is China’s third aircraft carrier, tested waters Wednesday, according to the state broadcaster CCTV. The ship was launched and officially named in June 2022. The province is across the strait from Taiwan, which the Chinese Communist Party has pledged to take — even if by force.

The 316-meter (1037-foot) carrier is fitted with three electromagnetic catapults to launch fighter jets, which is similar to the advanced system used by the latest US carrier, the 337-meter long USS Gerald R. Ford. But unlike America’s fleet of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the Fujian is conventionally powered, which could limit its range and duration of its deployments.

The first sea trial will mainly focus on the reliability and stability of the propulsion and power systems, according to Chinese state media. The Fujian needs to go through the trials to test its performance including for its engine and weapon systems, before it’s delivered to the navy.

The sea trial marks a milestone for the Fujian, a key piece of the puzzle in President Xi Jinping’s ambitious plan to improve the military. Under his watch, China set a goal of building “a modern military” by 2027 and a “world-class” version by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic.

With a displacement of more than 80,000 tons, the Fujian is some 20,000 tons more than its two predecessors. The ship is part of a naval buildup that the Pentagon expects to reach 435 vessels by 2030. In addition, China is bolstering the armaments on its Coast Guard vessels, sending the militarized ships to contested waters in places such as the South China Sea.

Both the Liaoning, a refitted Soviet-era vessel that became China’s first aircraft carrier, and the Chinese-built Shandong use ski-jumps, which are less efficient for launching jets compared to catapults. The Fujian also features a flat runway, which allows for more room on the carrier’s deck for jets.

Sea trials for the Liaoning took as long as 13 months, while the Shandong took some 19 months.

(Updates with comments from state media in paragraph four. A previous version corrected a mention for a jet-launching method.)

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