Sources – asia.nikkei

New Delhi: China and India are scrambling to expand their naval capabilities amid their growing rivalry in the Indo-Pacific region, making moves toward each putting a third aircraft carrier into service.

The latest footage of China’s new Fujian aircraft carrier, aired by state broadcaster CCTV on Jan. 2, showed what appeared to be three catapult tracks on its deck.

In a November article by Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, an expert said the Fujian had succeeded in launching a wheeled object while docked in Shanghai. Video circulated on social media of a splash in front of the Fujian, suggesting that something had fallen into the water.

Also in November, the South China Morning Post reported that the Fujian had moved around 27 meters from its usual berthing place before returning two days later — a potential sign of an inclining test to gauge its weight, centre of gravity and stability.

Based on expert analyses, the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times reported last week that the Fujian could soon enter trials at sea. Japanese security officials also believe the carrier to be undergoing final preparations for a test sailing.

Taiwan’s defence ministry predicts that the Fujian will be commissioned in 2025. This means that the carrier could play a role should China launch an armed invasion of Taiwan.

Launched in June 2022, the Fujian is China’s largest warship, with a displacement of more than 80,000 tonnes. By comparison, the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force’s largest vessel — the JS Izumo — has a displacement of 27,000 tonnes.

The Chinese carrier is named after Fujian province, where President Xi Jinping worked for years before rising to the national stage. It can carry 60 to 70 fighter jets and early-warning aircraft — at least 50% more than the Liaoning, a refurbished Ukrainian carrier, and the Shandong, China’s first homegrown carrier.

Its most distinctive feature is its electromagnetic catapults. These catapults “allow aircrafts to take off while carrying more weight in missiles and fuel, which improves their range and combat capabilities and expands tactical options,” said Masafumi Iida, who heads the China division at Japan’s National Institute for Defence Studies.

The Liaoning and Shandong, by contrast, are equipped with ski-jump ramps, which provide some assistance but still require that aircraft take off under their own power. Smaller decks limit the size of the aircraft they can accommodate.

The U.S. currently has the world’s only armed forces with operational electromagnetic catapults. Some see nuclear power as the only way to meet the steep energy requirements of these catapults, though the Fujian is steam-powered.

“Even the U.S. military went through a lot of trial and error for its first vessel with electromagnetic catapults,” Iida said. “It will take time before the Fujian can smoothly launch planes.”


China’s military wants more of its vessels to be equipped with these catapults, stoking speculation that it could turn to nuclear power, starting with its fourth aircraft carrier. The U.S.-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments predicted in 2022 that the People’s Liberation Army “may have sufficient resources to boast five aircraft carriers” by 2031.

The increased Chinese military presence in the Indo-Pacific is pushing India to build a blue-water navy as well.

India now operates two aircraft carriers: the Russian-made INS Vikramaditya and the INS Vikrant — India’s first homegrown carrier, with a displacement of around 43,000 tonnes, which entered into service in 2022. Indian naval chief Adm. Hari Kumar said in October that there were plans to commission another Vikrant-class carrier.

China has established a presence in ports along the Indian Ocean, including in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, under its so-called String of Pearls strategy. India has responded with a push to bolster its naval capabilities so that it can operate even in faraway waters, near the Maldives and the Seychelles.

India’s basic naval strategy is to station a carrier in the Bay of Bengal to its east and another in the Arabian Sea to its west.

Any Chinese carrier approaching India would likely do so from the east. An Indian carrier in the waters would be able to mount some sort of response in coordination with the tri-service command center in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

But because India only has two carriers, its defensive capabilities are stretched thin whenever one of them undergoes maintenance. India is focused on commissioning a third carrier to make up for this weakness.

India and the U.S. formed a working group on carrier-related technology in 2015. If necessary, India could advance domestic production of related components with American cooperation.