The Chinese navy’s enormous Type 003 ‘super-carrier’ was thought to be nearing completion in October last year, according to analysis of satellite imagery. However, the strict lockdown restrictions imposed in Shanghai to stop the spread of COVID-19 are thought to have pushed back its launch date.
China had scheduled the launch of the vessel for April 23, according to reports.
The decision by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) was thought to be a result of logistical problems caused by the surge in coronavirus cases in China last month, which forced Shanghai to impose new lockdown measures.
It was unclear how long the launch would be delayed by.
However, pictures of the ship shared on social media have sparked speculation that it may be nearly finished.
Aerial photos posted on Twitter shared by The Sun show the vessel in the Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai.
An earlier video posted on TikTok by a Chinese user also appeared to show footage of the vessel, which has been under construction since 2018.
The video has since been deleted.
When it is launched, the Type 003 will be China’s third and most advanced aircraft carrier in its naval fleet.
The vessel is said to be much faster than China’s existing aircraft carriers and can hold a larger arsenal of weapons on deck.
Pictures posted on social media show the enormous Type 003 carrier in the Jiangnan shipyard. (Image: The Sun/Twitter)
At 320 metres long it is only slightly shorter than the USS Ford carrier.
It is also thought to boast more advanced aircraft-launching technology, capable of launching aircraft through a hydraulic catapult similar to systems used by US aircraft carriers.
The new launchers will allow China to launch a wider variety of planes from the vessel faster and with more ammunition.
Analysis of satellite imagery by Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on October 23 last year suggested the vessel was nearly finished.
Analysts said the installation of major external and internal components, including power plants and the aircraft launching system, appeared to be finished or nearly completed.
Only a handful of additional items, such as radar and weapon systems, remained to be installed before the vessel could be launched into the Yangtze River.
In a commentary published on November 9, CSIS said: “Based on available information and observed progress at Jiangnan, the authors estimate that the Type 003 will launch in roughly three to six months.”
China intends to produce four such carriers by the end of 2022 as part of its ambition to be the most powerful and advanced naval fleet in the world by 2030.
Aircraft carriers are the core vessels of any major power’s navy.
Once launched, the ship will be the largest and most advanced aircraft carrier in China’s fleet. (Image: The Sun/Twitter)
The huge ships essentially act as mobile airbases, allowing for the rapid, long-term deployment of aircraft and weaponry.
The Type 003 is said to be far more advanced than its sister ships the Liaoning and the Shandong, appearing to have the same catapult technology as US carriers.
Analysts have said the vessel may also have advanced electromagnetic launchers which the US vessels do not.
China’s effort to upscale its naval fleet has been taken as an indication that China is readying itself to take control over the South China Sea and, eventually, Taiwan in the coming years.
The US Navy boasts the largest number of aircraft carriers in the world, with 11 nuclear-powered vessels in its fleet.
Top US intelligence official Avril Haines told the Senate on Tuesday: “It’s our view that [China’s leaders] are working hard to effectively put themselves into a position in which their military is capable of taking Taiwan.”
Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee, she said that it remains to be seen how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has affected China’s plans.
She added that the threat to Taiwan is “acute” between now and 2030.
The vessel was earlier captured in a since-delete TikTok video. (Image: The Sun/TikTok)
China claims that Taiwan is part of its territory while Taiwan remains fiercely opposed to any threat to its independence.
In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 21, senior Taiwanese officials have warned that Beijing is preparing for an invasion of the island.
Shortly after the conflict began, China issued a chilling threat to the country, saying it was committed to “resolving the Taiwan question in the new era”.
Speaking last week, CIA Director Bill Burns said that Russia’s struggling invasion does not seem to have deterred China from its designs on Taipei.
He said: “I don’t think for a minute it’s eroded Xi’s determination over time to gain control over Taiwan but I think it’s something that’s affecting their calculation about how and when they go about doing that.”
Once the Type 003 vessel is launched it will need to be tested and fully outfitted before it is fit to be commissioned and officially enter service.
The US Department of Defence has initially estimated it would be ready for active service by 2023 but it has since pushed that date back to 2024.
The Shandong aircraft carrier took almost two years from its launch in 2017 to when it finally entered service in 2019.