China’s super aircraft carrier removed its shield, ready to test launch the J-15T aircraft

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that on Chinese social networks, more images of the Fujian aircraft carrier have recently appeared, showing that this 316 m long super aircraft carrier is one step closer. to becoming a real combat tool.

Military experts say that the speed of progress shows that the Fujian ship is ready to test the aircraft launch system and will be handed over to the Chinese navy in 2025 as expected.

All shields appear to have been removed from the three advanced electromagnetic catapults on the Fujian aircraft carrier's flight deck. (Photo: Reuters)

All shields appear to have been removed from the three advanced electromagnetic catapults on the Fujian aircraft carrier’s flight deck.

In an image posted earlier this week, the covers of all three advanced electromagnetic catapults on the Fujian’s deck were removed, giving outsiders a glimpse of the entire catapult system for the first time. its flight.

One of the covers was also said to have been removed about two months ago, suggesting takeoff tests were about to take place.

“Removing all protective shells means that the debugging work of the electromagnetic catapult has been completed, allowing the system to launch operational aircraft during sea trials” .

Photos circulating on Chinese social media over the weekend also showed smoke coming from the ship’s chimney, meaning intensive tests of the main engine system and other equipment are being carried out. proceed.

According to expert Song, the first sea tests will only take place in near-shore waters and this process can last at least a year, after which comes the testing phase with weapon systems and equipment. be specific.

“The sea trials will mainly focus on testing the carrier’s propulsion, navigation and communications systems, after which it may enter a second phase to undergo testing of other equipment on the train ,” Mr. Song said.

Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at Taiwan’s naval academy in Kaohsiung (Taiwan, China), said he expected the Fujian ship to test the J-15T, an operational catapult-type fighter. on the aircraft carrier.

“Removing the covers means the electromagnetic launchers are ready to launch the J-15T, because the launch system is nothing new to the Chinese military ,” Mr. Lu said.

Mr. Lu added that satellite photos from the Chinese navy’s training base near Xingcheng, northeastern Liaoning province, showed that the country’s military had undergone training simulating take-off and take-off operations. Landing J-15T from land-based catapult system since 2016.

The J-15T is an upgraded version of the J-15 “Flying Shark”, a 4th generation aircraft and the only fighter aircraft equipped on China’s aircraft carriers.

The original J-15 is currently in service on China’s two active aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong. The Liaoning is a former Soviet ship refurbished to become China’s first aircraft carrier, while the Shandong is China’s first self-built ship. Both have less advanced takeoff ramps based on Russian designs.

China is also developing a new generation of stealth fighter aircraft that can operate on aircraft carriers to compete with the US Navy’s F-35C jets.

J-15 fighter aircraft are operating on two aircraft carriers Liaoning and Shandong. (Photo: SCMP)

J-15 fighter aircraft are operating on two aircraft carriers Liaoning and Shandong. 

The Fujian aircraft carrier initially had three conventional steam-powered catapults, as China did not have a nuclear reactor on board as all American aircraft carriers have. However, the design was changed in 2017 after President Xi Jinping’s decision.

Instead of steam catapults, the Fujian was then equipped with a new integrated propulsion system capable of powering advanced electromagnetic launch systems. This is also the second aircraft carrier in the world to use an electromagnetic catapult system, after the US Navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford.

The Fujian ship has a maximum displacement of more than 85,000 tons, although not as large as the American Ford ship (100,000 tons), but much larger than the Liaoning (67,500 tons) and Shandong (70,000 tons).

Fujian aircraft carrier on launch day. (Photo: Xinhua News Agency)

Fujian aircraft carrier on launch day. 

Launched in June 2022, the Fujian aircraft carrier has been undergoing mooring and engine tests since March 2023 at the Shanghai shipyard where it was built. Photos on social media in July showed a series of radar systems had been installed on the ship’s control tower island.

Zhou Chenming, a researcher with the Beijing-based Yuan Wang military science and technology research organization, also said the Fujian will need to undergo another round of specific operational equipment evaluation after first sea trials. This will include testing crash control, fuel pipes, electrical circuits, communications, radar and sonar, and other systems.

“If there are no problems, the ship will be handed over to the Chinese navy in 2025 as planned ,” Mr. Zhou said.

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