A high-caliber model manufacturer may just have provided a unique glimpse into the Chinese vision of aircraft carriers to come. To stimulate discussion in China-watching circles, it is useful to assess the commercial enterprise’s three new indigenous carrier models critically and consider their possible significance before watching for other indicators of how things will ultimately unfold in reality. At very least, this offers a great solution for last-minute holiday gift shopping.
The dimensions and specifications of China’s first aircraft carrier CV16 (Liaoning) are well-known. Based on the Russian Project 11436 hull Varyag, it was long visible under refitting in Dalian Naval Shipyard before finally going to sea in 2011.
Now Jinshuai Model Crafts, based in Zhanjiang City, Jiashan District, is displaying models of putative hulls 17, 18, and 19 on its website and catalogs. These models provide clues to a vital question: what direction will China’s domestic aircraft carrier design and production take? In short, the models suggest: China will progress as quickly as possible to a large nuclear-powered design, similar to a Nimitz- or Ford-class hull with Chinese characteristics, and let deck aviation capabilities grow into the gargantuan new platform as they become able to do so.
Divining just what the Chinese intend to do in terms of future shipbuilding is a challenging task, especially for me, as I can’t read the source materials.
China has a very robust shipbuilding industry. Actually building the hulls for a Ford sized ship should not pose an insurmountable problem for them.
But as Erickson notes, the real challenge will be in providing a suitable powerplant.
The twin A1B nuclear powerplants of our own Ford class carriers are the end product of well over sixty years of maritime nuclear powerplant design. The Chinese have some experience with building seagoing nuclear power, but nothing like our own.