President Xi Jinping has ordered the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to modernize by 2035 and become a top-caliber fighting force by 2050. In conjunction with this order is the building of six aircraft carrier battle groups to include four nuclear-powered ships as it builds up its naval capability closer to that of the US Navy.
Experts predict the new carriers will be equipped with electromagnetic launch catapults similar to those used by the United States.
Notwithstanding the US-China trade conflict and the looming economic crunch confronting China, budget for military modernization will not be cut.
“China’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers with [EMALS-like systems] are expected to join the navy by 2035, bringing the total number of carriers to at least six – although only four will work at the front line,” Wang Yunfei, a naval expert and retired PLA destroyer naval officer said to the media in an interview. He further said that the “country needs to keep developing until it is at the same level as the United States.”
“Even if the economic downturn has an effect, we can adjust proportions in total military expenditure to make sure naval modernization keeps going,” Wang said.
Beijing is dedicated in expanding its aircraft carrier battle groups in order to accomplish its global naval ambitions and defend its growing overseas interests. Construction on its next conventional diesel-powered aircraft carrier, the Type 002 – the first equipped with electromagnetic launchers – began last year. Currently, China has one aircraft carrier in service – the Liaoning, commissioned in 2012 – and launched the Type 001A, its first home-built carrier, in April 2017.
Despite the ongoing military modernization, Chinese experts admit that China’s overall capability remains limited because of insufficient combat experience.
“China’s aircraft carrier technology and its carrier-based fighter jets will be developed to match the same generation of their American counterparts, but hardware build-up is only part of the picture,” according to Chinese experts.
“The standard of warships’ crew training and damage control have remained key shortcomings of the PLA Navy, because it has not had as much real combat experience as the Americans.”