The Chinese navy’s massive new aircraft carrier, the CNS Fujian, is expected to head to sea for the first time this year, the ship’s executive officer said in an interview with state media.
In a report on the interview published Tuesday by state-run China Daily, Senior Capt. Qian Shumin did not give an exact date for when the aircraft carrier will undergo its first sea excursions, saying only that “the trials will contribute to the realization of the centenary goals of the People’s Liberation Army.”
That centenary, which comes in 2027, was referenced by Chinese leader Xi Jinping in October as a deadline for the PLA to meet its modernization goals.
The Fujian is the largest warship China has ever built and bringing it into operation is a key component in the PLA Navy’s objectives.
The ship was launched with great fanfare on June 17 and has been in the final stages of construction at a Shanghai shipyard.
Hawaii-based analyst Carl Schuster, a former US Navy captain, said he expects the Fujian’s first trials to come in the spring.
“Based on the technologies and systems installed on the Fujian, the first sea trials will be conducted on/about March 2023 and consist of basic engineering and ship’s maneuvering tests,” said Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.
He said the initial trials would likely last three to seven days.
They would be the first steps in an approximately 18-month-long series of trials that could see the Fujian become operational by October 2024, Schuster said.
“Each trial will be followed by an examination of what went right and wrong; and solutions to those problems, whether human or equipment-related, are identified and applied, respectively,” he said.
Displacing around 80,000 metric tons of water, according to the China Daily report, the Fujian is 50% larger than China’s two current in-service carriers and puts the PLA Navy in the league of supercarriers, like the 100,000-ton US Nimitz-class ships.
It also shows China matching US carrier technology.
China’s other two carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong, are based on outdated Soviet technology. Those two carriers used the ski-jump launching system, in which where planes simply take off from a slight ramp, while US carriers use a more advanced catapult system to launch their aircraft.
And the Fujian uses an electomagnetic catapult system, something the US has only on its newest operational carrier, the USS Gerald Ford.
Schuster says integrating the Fujian’s air wing into its operations using that new technology will be the final key part of its trials, and he expected that to come sometime in the summer of 2024.