TechChina's secret drone carrier spotted in satellite photos

China's secret drone carrier spotted in satellite photos

Chinese aircraft carrier Type-003 Fujian - a unit that the Chinese talk about openly
Chinese aircraft carrier Type-003 Fujian - a unit that the Chinese talk about openly
Images source: © Licensor

4:02 PM EDT, May 17, 2024

Naval News reports that China has built the world's first aircraft carrier dedicated exclusively to carrying unmanned aerial vehicles. The mysterious vessel, spotted in a satellite photo, differs from the three Type 003 Fujian aircraft carriers undergoing sea trials. According to Naval News, the new aircraft carrier "is unusual in every respect" and can serve various roles. For now, Beijing is not boasting about this addition to its fleet, which constitutes the largest navy in the world.

Naval News, together with J. Michael Dahm, an expert from the Mitchell Institute, analyzed the satellite photo showing the mysterious Chinese aircraft carrier located at the Jiangsu Dayang Marine shipyard on the Yangtze River. The vessel was launched at the end of 2022, but so far, China has not mentioned it in any official communication. According to experts, this is the world's first aircraft carrier designed exclusively for carrying unmanned aerial vehicles.

Beijing expands its fleet of aircraft carriers

The vessel visible in the photos does not resemble the Type 003 Fujian aircraft carriers, which the Chinese are eager to showcase, especially since they have joined the elite group of countries possessing CATOBAR-class units (apart from them, this type of vessel is only owned by the United States—Nimitz and Ford, and France—Charles de Gaulle). This new carrier is a vessel designed entirely in China. Previously, Beijing purchased remnants of the Soviet fleet, exemplified by the aircraft carrier Liaoning acquired from Ukraine.

Naval News points out that the mysterious Chinese aircraft carrier is smaller than standard units of this type and slightly shorter, but at the same time wider than escort carriers from World War II. Its deck also doesn't show space for hangars that could house helicopters and other aircraft. According to the service, the aircraft carrier's hull "is a widely spaced catamaran." Additionally, the crew cabin is very low, suggesting no hangar underneath it, and the unit is most likely not intended for intensive and long-term aerial operations. It is, however, wide enough to conveniently control aircraft or drones with a wingspan of about 66 feet.

J. Michael Dahm from the Mitchell Institute reminded us that vessels imitating enemy ships were previously built at the Jiangsu Dayang Marine shipyard. These are used, among other things, for testing Chinese weapons and various attack scenarios. It cannot be ruled out that the mysterious aircraft carrier will also serve such a function. Other hypotheses assume the aircraft carrier's use for research and development purposes or its construction as part of a commercial project. Similar doubts surround another mysterious Chinese warship that was recently described.

Little is known about this vessel as well. The Bulgarian Military service pointed out that it might be a new Chinese corvette - a successor to the existing Type 056 corvettes (NATO code: Jiangdao) - or a light frigate. There is a resemblance to Swedish Visby-class missile corvettes with stealth features, as well as American Zumwalt-class multi-role destroyers.

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