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China finishing first domestic CV-17 aircraft carrier and preparing catapults for next CV-18 carrier

The second PLAN aircraft carrier, CV-17 is in advanced stages of construction at Dalian Shipbuilding in northeastern China. It will be the first aircraft carrier built entirely in China. The Liaoning was purchased from the Ukraine in the late 1990s and towed to China for an extensive rebuild.

The CV-17 has a somewhat larger displacement than the CV-16 Liaoning. It has greater internal hanger space for aircraft stowage below deck, and a larger island.

Located on the starboard side of the flight deck, in similar orientation as that on the Liaoning, the island of the CV-17 is substantially larger. Analysis of the new island structure, which was constructed in two modules before attachment to the vessel due to its size, seems to suggest a more advanced communications equipment suite and updated Type 346A active phased array radar (APAR).

The Type 346A radar can be found on the Type 052D destroyers of the PLAN, and is most likely to be fitted on the Type 055 Destroyers currently under construction. By contrast, the Liaoning is equipped with an earlier Type 346 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. Photographs of the mock-up island located in Wuhan, which is used for training and orientation of naval crews, support this hypothesis.

The construction on the northeastern corner of the Huangdicun Airbase suggests two land based catapult launch systems (for training and testing). Although they appear slightly different from above, it is impossible to confirm if they are of the convention steam driven design, or if one is an electro-magnetic catapult, as suggested by a number of analysts.

The launch bar can clearly be seen attached to the nose landing gear of both aircraft. The arrestor hook, used in arrested recovery can also be clearly viewed on both aircraft, though more clearly on the aircraft on the left.

It is obvious that Chinese naval aviators will begin practicing CATOBAR operations at Huangdicun Airbase in the immediate future, most likely beginning in the first or second quarter of 2017. This is a logical step along the way to preparing an air wing skilled in such operations, as well as the necessary handlers, directors, and hook runners required to successfully and safely conduct catapult assisted launches on a modern aircraft carrier.

The third chinese aircraft carrier CV-18 will gain the advantages of greater range and weapons load-out for its strike wing by using catapult launch. It will also allow for the use of fixed-wing anti-submarine (ASW) aircraft and tactical airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft. The PLAN’s current reliance on helicopter borne ASW and AEW is a shortcoming that must be resolved.

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