China’s Plan for 6 Aircraft Carriers Just ‘Sank’

China’s Plan for 6 Aircraft Carriers Just ‘Sank’

David Axe

Security,

China reportedly is slowing its plan to acquire two aircraft carriers for each of its regional fleets. Instead of speeding ahead with the development of a six-carrier fleet — two each for the northern, eastern and southern fleets — the Chinese navy could stop after acquiring flattop number four.

China reportedly is slowing its plan to acquire two aircraft carriers for each of its regional fleets.

Instead of speeding ahead with the development of a six-carrier fleet — two each for the northern, eastern and southern fleets — the Chinese navy could stop after acquiring flattop number four.

“Plans for a fifth [carrier] have been put on hold for now, according to military insiders,” the Hong Kong South China Morning Post reported. “They said that technical challenges and high costs had put the brakes on the program.”

The possible pause in carrier-production could cement the yawning capability gap between the U.S. and Chinese fleets.

Song Zhongping, a military expert and T.V. commentator, in late 2018 told Global Times that China needs at least five aircraft carriers to execute its military strategy. Wang Yunfei, a retired Chinese navy officer, said Beijing needs six flattops.

The Chinese defense ministry declined during a November 2018 press conference to specify how many carriers it ultimately planned to acquire.

But leaving aside the high cost, six flattops would have made sense. Equipping each of the three regional fleets with two flattops would have allowed one carrier from each fleet to deploy while the other underwent maintenance.

In 2019, each fleet possesses between 20 and 30 major surface warships, at least a dozen submarines and a handful of amphibious vessels. Just one, the Northern Theater Navy headquartered in Qingdao, operates an aircraft carrier — Liaoning, China’s refurbished, former Ukrainian flattop, which commissioned in 2012.

The second carrier Shandong, a slightly-improved copy of Liaoning and China’s first home-built flattop in late 2019 is completing sea trials. Carrier number three, a bigger vessel than Liaoning and Shandong, is under construction in Shanghai. Flattop four presumably would be similar in design to number three.

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