5 aircraft carriers and 5th generation aircraft for the Chinese Navy in 2030

Recent satellite photos have shown that work on the construction of the first example of the new class of Chinese aircraft carriers, this time equipped with a catapult and arresting strands, is progressing rapidly, suggesting a launch on the 2nd.ndhalf of 2019. The construction of a 4th aircraft carrier was also detected a few months after the 3rd, without it being known whether it is the same class, or a new one.

In any event, it is now likely that Chinese shipyards have entered a rate of production of a new building every 2 ½ years,which will lead the Chinese Navy to have 5 aircraft carriers, including 3 CATOBAR, in 2030. 

At the same time, the Chinese Navy confirmed, during the Zhuhai China Airshow, which closed its doors on Sunday, that it had selected the FC-31 Gyrfalcon fighter from '5rdgeneration' to equip its aircraft carriersequipped with catapults, in addition to the previous generation J15s.

The FC-31, designed by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (the same ones that produce the J-15), is a low radar image aircraft of the 25 ton class (like the Rafale French), twin-jet, whose shapes seem very inspired by the American F-35. Initially designed with its own funds, the FC-31 was intended for export, with the Chinese Air Force preferring the heavier J-20. 

For a long time, the Chinese Navy hesitated between the two aircraft to equip its CATOBAR aircraft carriers, especially since the FC-31 prototype showed performance below expectations during the first tests in 2012. The aircraft was then completely dismantled and underwent numerous modifications. The flight tests of the new version seem to have been satisfactory, since the Navy has decided to make it its main onboard fighter in the years to come.

In any case, the Chinese naval air forces will have, from 2025, an operational structure close to those of the American Naval Aero Groups, with 5th generation aircraft (F-35 vs FC-31), and 4th generation (F-18 vs J-15). From the point of view of advanced aerial detection, they will also have similar devices, the American Grumman E2-D Hawkeye and the Chinese KJ-600, both with an AESA UHF radar optimized to detect 5th generation stealth aircraft. . If the US Navy has already launched the design for the production of the MQ-25 Stingray onboard combat drone, dedicated to in-flight refueling, this is not the case of the Chinese authorities, although several onboard combat drone programs are currently under development and testing.

From an escort point of view, the Chinese Navy will soon have 055-ton Type 12.000 heavy destroyers, the alter-ego of the latest versions of the American Arleigh Burke destroyers. But where an American aircraft carrier will only have 2 Burkes, 3 at best, the Chinese ships will be escorted by a mix of heavy Type055s, Type052D anti-aircraft destroyers, and Type054A anti-submarine frigates, giving them a clear advantage in anti-submarine and anti-ship capabilities, based on available information.

On the other hand, the Chinese authorities are very discreet regarding their submarine programs, so that it is even very difficult to know the exact number and type of submarines in service and under construction. However, it seems that Chinese shipyards carry out 3, sometimes 4 submarine launches each year, including at least 1 nuclear attack submarine. It also seems, still based on publicly available information and testimonies, that the Chinese Navy has made significant progress regarding the discretion of its submersibles in recent years, without however managing to match Western vessels.

By extrapolating current Chinese industrial production, we can establish that in 2035, it will have more Naval Air Groups than the US Navy will have in the Asia Pacific zone. An observation which, until recently, appeared impossible, and which is in line with the objectives announced by the Chinese Air Force General Staff, which aims to become a “world class” air force, understand “equivalent to the US Air Force”, by 2035.

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