China's 'Fujian' carrier allegedly close to testing its EM catapult

According to sources like the South China Morning Post, China's most advanced aircraft carrier, the Fujian, could be getting ready to test one of its electromagnetic catapults.
Christopher McFadden

Images have been released that seem to indicate that China's Fujian aircraft carrier could be getting prepared for testing one of its deck electromagnetic catapult-assisted launch systems, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports. Military analysts note that the lack of a cover over one of the aircraft launch systems indicates that such tests could be imminent. The same images show that advanced radar systems have also been installed on the aircraft carrier's control tower, reports SCMP.

Catapult test imminent

On Monday, a military enthusiast shared photos on Weibo, China's answer to Twitter, displaying radar systems installed on the control tower island of Fujian. According to Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at the Taiwanese Naval Academy, a few months ago, the electromagnetic catapult system was installed, which ensures a stable power supply for the ship.

China's 'Fujian' carrier allegedly close to testing its EM catapult
Satellite image of the carrier earlier this year. The red arrow points to the now absent cover..

“The next step should be testing the J-15T fighter jets,” Lu said. He also said the radar systems in the photo included advanced active electronically scanned arrays, or AESAs. “That is the same one used on the Type 055 cruiser and the Type 052D destroyer, meaning that a sea trial may start anytime,” Lu added.

China's sole operational carrier-based fighter jet, the J-15T, has been utilized on the country's other two aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and Shandong. The development of this aircraft has garnered attention from military enthusiasts since 2021 when images of it surfaced on Chinese social media platforms. It is known that ground-based flight tests of the J-15T have been underway for several years at the People's Liberation Army Navy's training base in Xingcheng, located in the province of Liaoning.

According to Zhou Chenming, a researcher at the Beijing Yuan Wang military think tank, Chinese engineers have been improving the electromagnetic catapult system introduced a year ago.

“After more than one year of calibration, now it’s time to make sure that the flight test of the J-15T can be completed by the end of this year,” Zhou said, adding the schedule could be between August and October. “Ensuring safety is still the top priority for such a highly sophisticated weapon system, and if it is not ready by August, then [the PLA] can aim for [National Day on] October 1," he added.

According to Chinese military aviation analyst Fu Qianshao, the J-15T flight test is contingent upon the success of Fujian's maiden sea trial. Based on the progress made with Fujian, it is suggested that the PLA is accelerating efforts to become a fully modernized military by 2027, coinciding with its centennial anniversary.

China modernizing military

China has set three goals for its military, including completing its military modernization by 2035. Additionally, they aim to become a "world-class" military that rivals the United States by the mid-century. The Fujian is the inaugural vessel of the PLA Navy's Type 003 class, the second carrier class to use an electromagnetic catapult system - the first being the American Gerald R. Ford class.

China aims to establish itself as a blue-water navy force with the capacity to operate in far-off waters, and this plan is anticipated to be at the heart of its efforts.

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