The ship, dubbed ‘Fujian’, is the first China-designed and built aircraft carrier with a catapult, state news agency Xinhua reported.
The new system, similar to that used by US aircraft carriers, will allow China to launch a wider variety of aircraft from Fujian faster and with more ammunition.
In addition to the launch system, the Fujian is equipped with interlocking devices and a full load displacement of more than 80,000 tons, Xinhua reported, adding that the vessel will conduct mooring and navigation tests after launch.
Matthew Funaiole, senior fellow with the CSIS’s China Project, previously told CNN the new ship would be the Chinese military’s first modern aircraft carrier.
“This is a pretty important step forward,” he said. “They are really committed to building a carrier program and they continue to push the boundaries of what they can do.”
China’s ruling Communist Party claims sovereignty over Taiwan’s self-governed democracy, despite never having ruled it. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has repeatedly said “reunification” between China and Taiwan is inevitable and has refused to rule out the use of force.
China now has the largest naval power in the world and aircraft carriers are the core ships of every major power’s fleet. The huge ships are essentially a mobile airbase, allowing for rapid and long-term deployment of aircraft and weapons in a combat theater.
China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was an unfinished Soviet-era ship that Beijing bought from Ukraine in 1998, updated, and finally commissioned in 2012.
The Chinese military used the technological knowledge it gained from that ship to build its first domestically built carrier, the Shandong, which came into service in December 2019.
But even though China’s two original aircraft carriers increased their naval power, their capacity was still far behind the US, which has a total of 11 of the ships in service.
In addition, both the Liaoning and Shandong were based on outdated Soviet technology. Those two airlines used the ski jump launch system, where planes would simply take off from a small slope, while US airlines use a more sophisticated catapult system to launch their plane.
Aircraft launched with catapults can get into the air faster and with greater amounts of fuel and ammunition, giving them an advantage over planes launched with ski jumps, which rely on their own power for takeoff.
Despite the advanced launch system, however, CSIS’ Funaiole said there are still signs that the Chinese airline is lagging behind its US counterparts, which have more catapults, a larger airway and more elevators to allow for faster aircraft deployment.
All US aircraft carriers are also nuclear powered, while the Fujian is believed to run on conventional steam propulsion, which Funaiole says would limit its range. “(Although) this may be less of a factor for China at the moment because many of its interests are in the nearby seas,” he said.
After launch, the Fujian will need to be tested and fully equipped before it is ready to go into service and officially enter service.
Initially, the US Department of Defense had estimated that the carrier would be ready for active duty in 2023, but it has now pushed that date to 2024.
The Shandong aircraft carrier also lasted two years from its launch in 2017 until it was finally commissioned in 2019. In addition, the Fujian could struggle to operate the electromagnetic launch technology for its catapults.
Even the US struggled to use the same system on their newest airline, the USS Gerald R. Ford, leading to lengthy implementation delays.