China’s ‘most advanced’ aircraft carrier, the Fujian, will begin sea trials this year.

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With the start of sea trials for the Fujian this year, China will have three aircraft carriers with cutting-edge capabilities, allowing it to work more closely to compete with the United States Navy.

The Fujian is China’s largest and most sophisticated warship to date. She represents a crucial step in Xi Jinping’s plan to modernize the military and close the military technology gap with the United States.

The ship’s captain announced the sea tours in a video message posted on December 3. Qian Shumin said that China should take over all work related to sea trials in the coming year and help the military achieve its [Two Centenary] goals.

China hopes to achieve the second aspect of President Xi Jinping’s “Two Centennial” ambitions, which is to place the country at the forefront of world powers in 2049 when it celebrates its centenary.

Ship commissioning has begun at the Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai, where it was launched in June. Simultaneous mooring tests began in September to shorten the delivery period.

The outfitting phase, which follows launching and precedes sea trials, prepares the ship for delivery and marks the end of construction.

Systems on board a ship, from mechanical equipment to propulsion, are tested during berthing trials to check their individual and collective operation effectiveness.

“President Xi [Jinping] specifically mentioned the launching of the Fujian in his New Year message. 

Qian said, “As a member of the Fujian ship, I feel deeply proud and honored” because the ship was included in Xi’s list of China’s triumphs from the previous year.

President Xi mentioned on December 31 that Fujian is expected to have a significant presence in the Taiwan Strait. The third Chinese aircraft carrier is comparable to the USS Gerald R. Ford, the only other warship with state-of-the-art electromagnetic catapults. 

The Chinese president said that he hopes citizens on both sides of the Taiwan Strait will work together for the nation’s long-term success.

Challenges facing the PLA Navy

Beijing has made considerable progress in the naval field in recent years. In an effort to challenge the United States and its allies in the region, the Chinese Navy has been increasing its footprint in the Indo-Pacific.

Since mid-December, the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, and its escort ships have been conducting training exercises in the western Pacific. On December 30, she was seen sailing near the US territory of Guam.

However, it appears that the modernization of the People’s Liberation Army Navy has produced significant operational challenges. 

The PLA’s official newspaper, PLA Daily, recently admitted that the armed forces do not have enough trained personnel to operate modern weaponry.

The newspaper revealed that captains of the Type 056 corvette Zhangye had not yet passed vital training tests. The report noted an indirect but infrequent acknowledgment of the shortage of highly-skilled people.

The report claimed the delay was due to ship maintenance or scheduling problems. However, it did not specify the term for the evaluation.

On the other hand, the report draws attention to a serious problem. Due to a lack of high-tech know-how, the People’s Liberation Army in China is unable to make the most of the equipment it already has, even as the country speeds up its modernization efforts.

There was also the allegation that China had employed Western-educated fighter pilots to train People’s Liberation Army (PLA) pilots.

Apparently, these steps were taken to ensure that its air force had a thorough understanding of Western aerial warfare techniques.

On the other hand, the Chinese Navy still lacks a fighter trainer adapted to carrier operations, despite having deployed its first aircraft carrier a decade ago.

In contrast to the ski-jump designs of the first two Chinese aircraft carriers, the Fujian features sophisticated electromagnetic catapults. Therefore, the Navy must learn a new aircraft launch and recovery procedure.

It is estimated that the People’s Liberation Army required at least 200 trained pilots to operate 130 aircraft carriers. When tensions rise between China and Taiwan, China knows the United States and its allies will step in to prevent any major damage.

In that circumstance, their pilots will have to go up against better-trained Western fighter pilots. If Beijing wants to compete militarily with the United States in the region, it will need to overcome these challenges.

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