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An independent analyst this week posted copies of artwork from China’s Jiangnan Shipyard depicting a new aircraft carrier design. According to The Drive, the renderings appear to be a planned carrier that is often referred to as the Type 004. Intended to succeed the Type 003 ship, the future variant will reportedly be the first ever Chinese carrier to feature nuclear propulsion, among other advanced capabilities.

The publication of the Type 004 images follows the launch of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s homegrown Shandong carrier. Beijing’s fourth carrier is part of a methodical effort to counter the capabilities of U.S. ships and deter Taiwan from pursuing independence.

Tensions Flare in the South China Sea

Earlier this month, the Shandong carrier was positioned around 200 miles east of Taiwan. The Taiwanese Defense Ministry reported that the vessel led a fleet of ships through the Bashi Channel before continuing into the waters southeast of Taiwan. China’s state-run Global Times claimed that the deployment of its first ever domestically constructed carrier was “fully ready for far sea operations and safeguarding China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The Shandong, also referred to as the Type 002 carrier, was officially commissioned in 2019. While the vessel is a milestone for Chinese manufacturing, it is less capable than any of its U.S. Navy near-peers.

The Shandong’s successor, the Fujian, made headlines last year when it launched in June. While China quantitatively has the largest navy in the world, the U.S. retains greater carrier power. The entrance of China’s Type 004 vessel into service, however, increases Beijing’s carrier armada. Weighing approximately 80,000 tons, the Fujian resembles a U.S. carrier, including its flat deck capable of launching and retrieving airframes.

According to the U.S. Defense Department, the platform is equipped with a catapult launch system that will “enable it to support additional fighter aircraft, fixed-wing early-warning aircraft, and more rapid flight operations and thus extend the reach and effectiveness of its carrier-based strike aircraft.”

The Department added in its annual report to Congress on China’s military that “the PRC’s aircraft carriers and planned follow-on carriers, once operational, will extend air defense coverage beyond the range of coastal and shipboard missile systems and will enable task group operations at increasingly longer ranges.”

What We Know About the Type 004

While information regarding the new Type 004 carrier remains very limited, the recently published renderings give us some insight into the vessel’s design. As outlined by The Drive, the drawings indicate a catapult-assisted takeoff but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) configuration, similar to its Type 003 predecessor. CATOBAR enables a degree of sophistication. It allows a greater variety of heavier airframes to launch off the ship’s deck, including platforms with greater fuel and ordnance loads.

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