Naval Air: Chinese Carrier Aircraft


May 20, 2024: China has built its first modern aircraft carrier, the Type 003 Fujian, which began sea trials on May 1st that may last up to a year as the crew learns how to work as a team and operate a new ship. Representatives of the carrier builder are also on board to note and deal with any problems with the major ship components, like the engines, control systems and three Electromagnetic Air Launch Systems (EMALs) catapults on the deck used for launching aircraft.

The Fujian is an 80,000 ton carrier powered by non-nuclear maritime power plants. The Carrier Air Group consists of 24 32-ton J-15 fighter bombers, four J-15D EW aircraft and twelve 28-ton J-35 fighter bombers, a more modern aircraft that will eventually replace the J-15. There are also 8 Z-18 and four Z-9 helicopters as well as four KJ-600 AWACS aircraft. That’s 56 aircraft and helicopters. The Fujian Task group includes several destroyers for escorts. The Fujian is the only modern carrier in any way comparable to the 11 American 100,000 ton nuclear powered carriers. Each of these has an air wing consisting of 80-90 aircraft including 40-48 F-18E fighter-bombers or new F-35C aircraft. Over the next decade the F-35C will gradually replace the F-18s.

A U.S. fleet carrier air wing includes one EW (Electronic Warfare) squadron with seven EA-18G aircraft, a squadron with four or five E2C or D AWACS (airborne warning and control system) aircraft and a helicopter squadron with eight MH-60S helicopters, a helicopter maritime strike squadron with 12 MH-60R helicopters, half of them stationed on destroyers escorting the carrier, and two supply aircraft, either the older C-2A or the new CMV-22B tilt wing aircraft. The American carrier air wing operates from a 100,000 ton CVN (nuclear powered carrier).

U.S. CVNs are part of a carrier task group that also includes destroyer and frigate escorts as well as an amphibious assault ship with a flight deck for helicopters to transport the battalion of marines on board to shore. Alternatively the amphibious assault ship can also just carry 20 F-35B vertical takeoff fighters. This gives the carrier task group a hundred or more aircraft, half of them F-35C or B fighters. The task group also has an SSN operating under water and used for scouting or combat if the Task Group goes to war.

Most of the American CVNs are stationed in the Pacific because of the growing Chinese fleet, including the Fujian and ultimately many more Chinese carriers. China has already begun construction of the nuclear powered Type 004 carrier that will apparently weigh at least 100,000 tons and carry up to 100 aircraft. The first 004 will be completed by the end of the decade and, if successful, China plans to build three more.




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