Both the Chinese and Indian navies have received new aircraft carriers in recent weeks. The Chinese carrier Fujian and the Indian flattop Vikrant are both designed and built in the country. It will take some time for either carrier to reach its full potential, but here’s how they compare. Something is loading.
On June 17, China officially launched its newest and most advanced aircraft carrier, Fujian.
Fujian is China’s third aircraft carrier and the first to be designed and built entirely in the country. It symbolizes the rapid expansion of the Chinese military and is seen as a potential rival to the US Navy’s nuclear-powered super aircraft carriers.
But China isn’t the only Asian country to get a new carrier this year. In the last days of July, the Indian Navy took delivery of its new aircraft carrier, the Vikrant.
Vikrant is also domestically designed and built, and its arrival is a major milestone for India, which is Asia’s second-largest military power and shares a long and contentious border with China.
In addition to their many improvements over their predecessors, both carriers are important firsts for their countries. It will be years before either is fully operational, but here’s how the two flattops stack up.
Fujian The Chinese aircraft carrier Fujian during its launch in Shanghai on June 17, 2022. Li Tang/VCG
A Class 003 carrier, the Fujian is approximately 1,035 feet long and displaces approximately 80,000 tons when fully loaded. This makes it slightly larger than its predecessors, the Type 001 Liaoning and Type 002 Shandong, which were around 1,000 feet long and displaced 60,000 to 70,000 tons.
The Liaoning is a Soviet-designed Kuznetsov-class carrier that China purchased in 1998 and extensively modified before entering service in 2012. The Shandong was based on the Liaoning and entered service in 2019.
All three Chinese carriers use conventional engines rather than nuclear reactors, which limits the power they can generate and the time they can spend at sea.
Among the Fujian’s improvements is a slimmer and more refined command island than those of its predecessors, freeing up cockpit space.
The most striking change, however, is the replacement of the Short Takeoff But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) system and ski jump ramp it requires, used on both Liaoning and Shandong.
Fujian has a completely flat deck and three catapults, reflecting China’s efforts to adopt the Catapult Assisted Takeoff But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) system used on US aircraft carriers.
Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong.
STOBAR allows jets to take off on shorter decks but limits the amount of fuel and weapons they can carry when taking off. This is particularly problematic for China, as the only carrier-based fixed-wing aircraft it has in service, the J-15, is already the heaviest carrier-based fighter in service.
A CATOBAR system can launch jets with larger payloads and more fuel. It can also launch larger aircraft, such as those suitable for airborne early warning and control.
Parts of Fujian’s flight deck were covered during the launch ceremony, obscuring its catapults, but it is believed to use an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS) which can launch aircraft more efficiently and frequently. than steam catapults.
Until Fujian, the only aircraft carriers equipped with EMALS were those of the nuclear-powered Ford class of the US Navy. Chinese sailors’ lack of familiarity with the CATOBAR system and the challenges the US Navy has encountered with EMALS suggest that it will be some time before Fujian reaches its full potential.
The exact size and composition of Fujian’s air wing is still not known, but it is expected to be larger than the approximately 36 aircraft carried by Liaoning and Shandong and include J-15 fighters and Z-18 helicopters.
In the future, the Fujian Air Wing could include J-35 stealth fighters (a naval version of the FC-31), Z-20F helicopters and, thanks to EMALS, KJ-600 airborne early warning aircraft. and even on-board drones. .
Vikrant The aircraft carrier Vikrant was delivered to the Indian Navy on July 28, 2022. Indian Navy
Vikrant was officially launched in 2013 and is expected to go live on August 15, but it won’t be India’s first or only carrier.
India had ex-British carriers in service from 1961 to 1997 and from 1987 to 2016, and INS Vikramaditya, a modified kyiv-class carrier purchased from Russia and commissioned in 2013, is the current flagship of the Indian Navy.
At 860 feet long and with a full displacement of around 45,000 tons, Vikrant is the largest warship India has ever built. It was designed and built by India’s largest shipbuilder, Cochin Shipyard Limited, and 76% of its components were domestically developed, according to India’s Defense Ministry.
Vikrant is staffed by approximately 160 officers and 1,400 sailors and is powered by four gas turbines capable of generating 88 megawatts of power and pushing it to a top speed of 28 knots. It can carry around 30 jets and helicopters, and like INS Vikramaditya it uses a STOBAR system with a ski jump ramp.
Indian aircraft carrier Vikrant. Indian Navy
Vikrant’s initial air wing is expected to consist of MiG-29K, the carrier version of the Russian-made MiG-29. The plane served on INS Vikramaditya, but its poor track record led India to seek 26 new carrier-based fighters – the finalists are Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and Dassault’s Rafale-M Aviation.
The F/A-18 has been the backbone of US Navy transport aviation for decades, and Boeing has demonstrated its ability to operate on STOBAR bridges in India. The Rafale-M operated on the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which uses catapults, and was demonstrated on an Indian STOBAR system. (The Indian Air Force already operates the Rafale.)
The Indian HAL twin-engine fighter was also offered as a native aircraft for Vikrant. The new carrier’s air wing is expected to be supplemented with a mix of KA-31, MH-60R and HAL Dhruv helicopters.
INS Vikrant is expected to play a major role in enhancing the Indian Navy’s capabilities against a growing Chinese threat in the waters around India.