China’s 003 Aircraft Carrier Set to Electromagnetic Catapult Launch J-35 Jet, Fact or Fiction?

As China’s National Day approaches, social media is buzzing with anticipation of the sea trials of the 003 aircraft carrier, also known as the Fujian. Claims from military enthusiasts suggest that the aircraft carrier might mark National Day by launching the J-35 jet using its electromagnetic catapult. This speculation has left many questioning its validity.

003 Aircraft Carrier Fujian and the J-35: All Set for Action!

The Fujian aircraft carrier’s progress has been a topic of interest recently. Notably, the aircraft’s three electromagnetic catapult tracks are now visible as their covers have been removed. Additionally, smoke has been observed, indicating the engine’s activation, signaling that sea trials are imminent.

Key milestones of the 003 aircraft carrier Fujian since its launch include:

  1. On June 18, 2022, the 003 was officially launched.
  2. By early March 2023, an 89 support ship was spotted alongside the 003, suggesting preparations for sea trials.
  3. On May 29, 2023, the main engine was tested.
  4. In early June 2023, social media was abuzz with speculations about an oil ship approaching the 003, hinting at imminent sea trials.
  5. On July 8, the left catapult’s cover was removed.
  6. In early August, the right catapult’s cover followed suit.
  7. By August 28, all covers had been removed, further intensifying sea trial speculations.

Historically, significant events have not necessarily coincided with major holidays. Still, if the 003 is sea trial-ready by National Day, it would indeed be a cause for celebration.

The smokestack of the Fujian ship is emitting smoke.

Fujian’s Launch and J-35’s Progress

Besides the Fujian’s developments, recent sightings of the J-35 jet during its test flights have added to the excitement. The jet, initially known as the FC-31 or “Gyrfalcon”, underwent its first test flight on October 31, 2012. Once considered a commercial model, it has since evolved to a multi-purpose stealth fighter jet for naval deployment.

Given that the J-35 is designed for naval deployment, it is naturally equipped for catapult launches, similar to the J-15. However, conditions differ vastly between land and sea launches, especially concerning the challenges posed by different sea conditions.

003 Aircraft Carrier Fujian & The J-35: Dominance in the Western Pacific

Recently, joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea between the US, Canada, South Korea, and later excluding Japan, were notably brief. During this time, the US “America” (LHA-6) amphibious assault ship was notably without its aircraft complement, hinting at a hasty decision to minimize time spent in the region. This brevity has led to speculations that the US Navy was wary of China’s naval presence.

Some argue that the US Navy’s two-carrier strength in the West Pacific is superior, but this might soon change with China’s 003 aircraft carrier entering service. Key factors affecting naval strength include:

  1. Heavy load launch capability
  2. Fixed-wing carrier-based early warning aircraft

It’s noted that sliding-jump carriers like the Liaoning and Shandong are limited in their launch capabilities, especially concerning heavy weaponry. Moreover, while they can deploy helicopter-based early warning systems, they lack the capability to deploy more advanced fixed-wing early warning aircraft like the KJ-600.

The 003 aircraft carrier’s electromagnetic catapults address these limitations. This will allow for the deployment of the J-35 and advanced early warning systems, providing the Chinese navy with a significant edge.

Conclusion

While the 003 aircraft carrier employs conventional power, which may limit its deployment duration and range, its significant advantages in aircraft launch and support capabilities position China’s naval power strongly in the Western Pacific. The actual date for the electromagnetic catapult test remains a topic of speculation, but whenever it happens, it will mark a significant leap in China’s naval capabilities.

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