Will China's Type 076 be a drone carrier or a light aircraft carrier?

If the construction of a successor to the Chinese Navy's Type 075 amphibious assault helicopter carrier, called Type 076, has been discussed since 2020, the characteristics and exact function of this ship have given rise to numerous speculations, enriched official Chinese statements.

This is how over the years, the Type 076 went from an LHD (Landing Helicopter Dock), like the Type 075, to an assault drone carrier, replacing part of its assault helicopters and attack, by fixed-wing drones, to ensure protection and support functions for the ship and dismounted troops.

Recent photos appearing on social networks, showing the progress of the construction of the first ship of the class, by the CSSC shipyards in Shanghai, show that, as mentioned, the ship will indeed have a catapult, and will therefore have the ability to implement these fixed-wing combat drones.

However, the size of the ship, and the length of the trench which will accommodate its single catapult, outlines another possibility, that of using the Type 076, as a light aircraft carrier, a class of ship which disappeared with the withdrawal of the HMS illustrations of the Royal Navy, in 2014, but which seems to regain appeal in recent years.

Construction of China's first Type 076 assault aircraft carrier advances rapidly in Shanghai

The construction of the first Type 076 was publicly announced in September 2023 by Shanghai's Hudong-Zhonghua Shipyard, marking the end of the design phase, and the start of the construction phase. Nine months later, the ship's hull has advanced considerably, to the point that the website Navalnews.com now estimates its launch for the beginning of 2025.

type 076 CSSC Shanghai
one of the last shots, particularly clear, showing the progress of the construction of the Type 076 in Shanghai. Note the trench for the catapula on the port bow.

If Type 076 does not deny its relationship with Type 075, it will, however, be very different from its ancestor. Thus, the ship should be around 10 meters longer, and above all much wider, so as to have a much larger right flight deck. It should, therefore, reach a tonnage of 45 tons loaded, 000 tons more than the Type 10, putting it on par with the LHAs of the America class of the US Navy, as well as with the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.

We see, in the photos taken by Chinese airline passengers, then posted on the internet, that the ship will have a double island, like the British aircraft carriers of the Queen Elizabeth class, and the Italian aircraft carrier Trieste , probably for chimney issues.

According to the specialist of the naval News site, it will also be equipped with gas turbine propulsion. This proves more effective in reaching the speeds required for fixed-wing aviation maneuvers. In addition, it will be equipped with at least one side elevator, allowing fluid movement on the flight deck, without hindering aircraft maneuvers.

A 100-meter catapult, similar to those of the Chinese Navy's new CV18 Fujian aircraft carrier

But the most determining point, concerning the Type 076 under construction, is undoubtedly the trench intended to accommodate the electromagnetic catapult which will allow the launch of fixed-wing aircraft, at maximum loading.

Type 076 construction
The Type 076 will be 10 tons heavier than the Type 075 which precedes it in the Chinese Navy.

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