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China’s third aircraft carrier Fujian (18) left Shanghai on Wednesday morning to conduct its first sea trial, according to a report by People’s Liberation Army News. Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) first batch of female naval aviators carried out their first solo flight on Apr. 25.
Fujian left Jiangnan Shipyard at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, according to PLA News, with the sea trial being conducted to test and verify the reliability and stability of the carrier’s power, electrical and other systems. No details were given as to the location or duration of the sea trials, but the China Maritime Safety Administration issued a navigational hazard safety notice for an area 80 miles away from Shanghai starting from Wednesday and concluding on May 9. The PLA News report stated that since the carrier was launched in 2022, its construction has been on schedule and it had completed its mooring trials, equipment adjustment and met the technical requirements to sail for sea trials.

The 80,000-ton carrier is China’s first CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery) carrier, in contrast to CNS Liaoning (16) and CNS Shandong (17), which both use ski jumps to assist aircraft launches. Fujian also uses the EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System) to launch its aircraft. Currently, only the Gerald R. Ford-class U.S. carriers feature EMALS, though the French PANG (porte-avions de nouvelle génération) new-generation aircraft carrier that will enter service in 2038 will also employ EMALS.

Shandong conducted nine sea trials from May 2018 to November 2019 before it was commissioned in December 2019, though it remains to be seen as to whether Fujian will conduct the same number of trials and in the same time length.

Fujian is expected to enter service by late next year or in 2026, allowing the PLAN’s carrier strike groups (CSGs) to maintain a higher deployment tempo. Neither the Liaoning and Shandong CSGs have conducted a deployment for this year. Liaoning is working its way to operational readiness after coming out of a year-long refit that began in February 2023. Shandong has remained in its home base in Sanya conducting in port drills and crew training since December last year, when it returned from northern China after conducting a month of training of carrier aviation pilots.

In March, Yuan Huazhi, political commissar of the PLAN, told Chinese media that China would announce a fourth carrier soon and would also reveal if it would be a nuclear powered or a conventionally powered like its existing three carriers. So far no official announcement has been made.

With a third and potentially fourth carrier, the PLAN’s carrier aviation force will need to expand, leading to the service in April 2023 opening pilot recruitment to women for the first time. The first batch of female pilot trainees carried out their first solo flights on Apr. 25 at the PLA Naval Aviation University in Yantai, according to a PLA Daily report.

The initial report did not disclose how many trainees made the flights, though a second report by PLA Daily stated that all trainees completed their solo flights successfully and during the hour-long flight, instructors on the ground did not have to issue any corrections to the trainee pilots. All the trainee pilots were born after the year 2000, according to PLA Daily.

PLA Daily also reported that in the summer, the female trainee pilots will carry out advanced flight training which will include instrument flying, navigation, formation flying and night flying. In its 2023 recruitment announcement, PLAN stated that after two months of basic training, cadet pilots would undergo 3-4 years of flight training at the PLA Naval Aviation University before graduating for assignment, thus, at the earliest, China will have its first batch of female naval aviators in late 2026.

Source:       Author. Dzirhan Mahadzir

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