The growing Chinese aircraft carrier fleet passed several important milestones in recent months.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy operates or is building three flattops. Writing at The Diplomat, Rick Joe provided an update on each.

CV-16 Liaoning is a former Ukrainian vessel that China rebuilt and commissioned in 2011. The 60,000-ton-displacement vessel launches its J-15 fighters by way of a bow ramp.

“CV-16 returned to Dalian shipyard in mid 2018 for maintenance and refit, where the island structure was altered and presumably additional upgrades were made internally,” Joe wrote.

After its refit, Liaoning participated in the PLAN 70th anniversary naval review [in April 2019].

And more recently, Liaoning and an escort force including a 901 comprehensive resupply ship passed through the first island chain into the western Pacific, presumably for a training deployment.

It will likely be another few years yet until Liaoning will have to return to a shipyard for a major overhaul.

Meanwhile, Liaoning’s sister vessel, the Type 002 Shandong, is nearing completion. “Construction of aircraft carrier 002 at Dalian shipyard was first photographically confirmed in early 2015,” Joe wrote.

The ship was launched in April 2017, and began sea trials one year later in April 2018. Recent pictures of 002 from May this year have revealed tire marks on the landing strip, indicating that aviation trials with fixed-wing aircraft (J-15s) have begun. Carrier 002 is expected to be commissioned by the end of 2019.

 

002 is a ski jump-equipped carrier derived from the design of CV-16 Liaoning. The ship enjoys various modifications from Liaoning, such as a significantly redesigned island and overall smaller island footprint, as well as redesigned, larger weapons elevators.

Similar to Liaoning, 002 is only capable of accommodating ski jump-launched J-15 fighters and helicopters at this time.

As a result of Salahi’s coöperation, his private cell was now stocked with what the government referred to as “comfort items.” After the pillow came soap, towels, a prayer cap, and prayer beads—by the time Steve Wood arrived, Salahi also had books, a television, a PlayStation, and an old laptop, on which he killed time playing chess and watching DVDs. Eventually, Salahi would be allowed access to a small patch of soil outside his trailer, where he tended sunflowers, basil, sage, parsley, and cilantro. “What I was told was that his information had saved thousands of American lives,” Wood said, “and this is what they’d given him to keep talking.”

Salahi was taken into custody when he was thirty years old, but he had already lived on four continents, and spoke fluent Arabic, French, and German. English was his fourth language. Since he had learned it in captivity, some of his earliest phrases were “I ain’t done nothing,” “cavity search,” “fuck this,” and “fuck that.” “My problem is that I had been picking the language from the ‘wrong’ people—namely, U.S. Forces recruits who speak grammatically incorrectly,” he wrote on a scrap of paper inside his cell. “English accepts more curses than any other language, and I soon learned to curse with the commoners.”

As a matter of professionalism, Wood resolved from the outset to bury in the back of his mind what he had heard of Salahi’s past. “It’s hard to sit there and laugh and chat with the guy, if he’s actually that bad,” Wood told me. The night shift was twelve hours, and he never saw Salahi shackled or restrained. Other Guantánamo prisoners threw punches and feces and urine, but, according to the classified dossier, Salahi’s only disciplinary infraction was that, on May 11, 2003, he “possessed an excessive amount of MRE food.

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Key Point: Will the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ever take the leap into nuclear propulsion for its aircraft carriers?

Credible reports confirm that the PLAN is already building at least one conventional carrier in the 80,000-ton range. Given how quickly Chinese shipbuilding has accelerated, does it make sense for the PLAN to think nuclear for its next generation of ships?

Current Carriers

China has taken huge steps forward in the past decade, acquiring and modifying an old Soviet carrier, and building a new ship to the same design. China will follow up the Type 001— essentially a half-sister to Liaoning, itself a half-sister to Admiral Kuznetsovwith the Type 002. Reportedly already under construction, the Type 002 is expected to use conventional propulsion, along with a series of technological advances such as an EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System) catapult system.

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It is unclear how many Type 002 carriers Beijing will build, although a one-off would be uncharacteristic of Chinese shipbuilding. It makes sense that the PLAN would want a pair of ships; operating the CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) Type 002 carriers will require a significantly different skill set than the first two, and it will be easier to produce that skill set with two carriers than with one. Moreover, the construction of only a single carrier could make that ship a white elephant, sitting uneasily in China’s larger strategic plan.

 

Nevertheless, some reports have suggested that China will take the nuclear leap for its fourth carrier.

Saturn and Sagittarius, mid-August 2019

All August, Saturn shines upper left of the Sagittarius Teapot at nightfall. The star just upper left of Saturn here is the brightest in the Teaspoon asterism.

Friday, August 16

• As August proceeds and nights begin to turn chilly, the Great Square of Pegasus lifts up in the east, balancing on one corner. Its stars are only 2nd and 3rd magnitude, and your fist at arm's length fits inside it. Late this evening the waning gibbous Moon rises below it.

From the Square's left corner extends the main line of the constellation Andromeda: three stars (including the corner) about as bright as those forming the Square.

This whole giant pattern was named "the Andromegasus Dipper" by the late Sky & Telescope columnist George Lovi. It's shaped sort of like a giant Little Dipper with an extra-big bowl, and it's currently raising its contents upward.

Saturday, August 17

• The actual Little Dipper, meanwhile, is tipping far over leftward in the north. It's less than half as long as the Andromegasus Dipper, and most of it is much fainter. As always, you'll find that it's oriented more than 90° counterclockwise compared to Andromegasus.

Sunday, August 18

• As summer progresses and Arcturus moves down the western sky, the kite figure of Bootes that sprouts from Arcturus tilts to the right (depending on your latitude).

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Sat Sep 28, 2019
Mon Sep 30, 2019
Fri Oct 4, 2019
Sun Oct 13, 2019
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Sun Oct 27, 2019
Fri Nov 8, 2019
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Mon Dec 9, 2019