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Satellite photos show China’s new aircraft carrier coming together quickly and reveals more about its design


Nov 4, 2011
Satellite photos show China’s new aircraft carrier coming together quickly and reveals more about its design
July 20, 2021

Associated Press

Satellite imagery shows China has made significant progress on its new carrier in recent weeks.
A CSIS analysis of the latest imagery said that certain aspects of the design can now be confirmed.

Different from its predecessors, the ship has a flat flight deck and catapults.

China has made significant progress on its newest aircraft carrier in recent weeks, according to an analysis of the latest satellite imagery.

High-resolution satellite photos taken in May by Maxar Technologies and analyzed by experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies showed the carrier taking shape at Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, but there was still a lot of work to be done.

A Maxar Technologies high-resolution satellite photo of China’s third aircraft carrier, an unnamed vessel simply known as Type 003, under construction at Jiangnan Shipyard. (Click to enlarge)

A satellite photo taken by Maxar about six weeks later and analyzed by CSIS shows China has nearly finished work on the carrier’s flight deck, sponsons, and basic superstructure, the Washington, DC-based think tank reported.

Work on the ship, which will be China’s third aircraft carrier but its first modern flattop, began in 2018.

In a Department of Defense report on the Chinese military published the following year, the Pentagon said that the vessel “will likely be larger and fitted with a catapult launch system.” Recent satellite imagery confirms this earlier assessment.

CSIS estimates the length of the new ship to be approximately 318 meters, making it larger than both of its predecessors, Liaoning and Shandong. And the superstructure, also known as the island, is smaller, leaving more room on the flight deck for a larger air wing.

The carrier’s flight deck is flat, and a catapult-assisted launch system is clearly visible in the latest photos, though it is unclear if the ship will use steam catapults like the US Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers or electromagnetic ones like those on the newer Ford-class carriers. Either way, catapults will be a substantial improvement over previous designs.

Catapults allow for a more diverse air wing of not just fighters but also early warning aircraft. They would also allow China’s fighters to reach their potential. Both the Liaoning and Shandong feature ski jump designs that limit how much weaponry and fuel China’s heavy J-15 carrier-based fighter jets can launch with, reducing the overall combat power of the carriers.


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