China just launched a new aircraft carrier -- here's how it stacks up to other world powers'

Photo: Global Times via Zhang Kai

China cracked a bottle of champagne on the hull of their second aircraft carrier on Wednesday as it took to the seas for the first time as part of a massive push to modernise its navy and imitate the power-projection capabilities of the US Navy.

While the new, unnamed carrier looks like their original, Soviet-made Liaoning carrier, China has incorporated lessons learned from the older vessel into their new ship. With a larger hangar and improved technology, the new carrier, which has been in production since 2013, should become operational in 2020.

China’s recent naval modernisation has raised eyebrows in the Pacific and globally, as China ignores international law, builds and militarizes artificial islands in the South China Sea, and threatens and bullies its neighbours.

See how China’s aircraft carriers stack up to other carriers worldwide:

The Liaoning's particulars and capabilities sound impressive.

Over the last four years, China's People's Liberation Army Navy has had to build up carrier operations from nothing. It has never operated an aircraft carrier, so it faced a steep learning curve.

J-15 Flying Shark aircraft on the Liaoning's deck.

The Liaoning launches planes off a 'ski jump'-style deck because it lacks the catapults that US carriers have.

Two J-15 Flying Shark aircraft sit on the Liaoning's ski-slope platform.

This means that the J-15 Flying Shark aircraft that take off from the Liaoning or the Type 001A can't carry as much fuel or as many bombs as the US's carrier based planes can. This greatly limits their range and effectiveness in combat.

But while the planes must travel light, the Liaoning and Type 001A boast a heavy arsenals of their own.

The Liaoning launches a Flying Leopard missile.

The Admiral Kuznetsov, which the Liaoning, and to some degree the Type 001A are based on, was Russia's sole aircraft carrier. The ships have the same size and speed, and they both feature the 'ski jump' platform.

Russia's Admiral Kuznetsov.

The Kuznetsov, which carried out its first combat deployment in the Mediterranean bolstering the Syrian regime in 2016, has a troubled past plagued with mechanical difficulties. Everywhere it sails, a tugboat accompanies it in case it breaks down, as was the case in 2012.

Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier.

China's southern neighbour, India, operates two smaller aircraft carriers with a third in production, but they are more reliable. In 2014, the Liaoning experienced unexpected power failures while at sea.

India's Vikramaditya aircraft carrier.

For the past few years, the Liaoning has been designated a training vessel.

Source: Business Insider

China's eastern neighbour, Japan, has smaller 'helicopter destroyers,' or flat deck carriers that sport helicopters and short- or vertical-takeoff aircraft as well as heavy armaments and missiles.

Public Domain
A Japanese Hyuga class sails in front of a US Nimitz-class carrier.

Source: Business Insider

But Japan has a trick up its sleeve. It recently launched a larger class of helicopter carrier, the Izumo class. Soon, these carriers will support the F-35B marine variant, which experts expect will provide unprecedented dominance in air and sea.

But China reportedly does have plans to build a US-style carrier with catapults, which could enable it be more competitive with US carriers.

Public Domain
China's Liaoning compared to a US Nimitz-class carrier.

Source: USNI News

Pound for pound, US carriers don't carry as many weapons as their foreign counterparts, but they travel in strike groups, which include guided missile destroyers to defend them.

The USS Abraham Lincoln Battle Group along with ships from Australia, Chile, Japan, Canada, and Korea during RIMPAC 2000.

(Not pictured: submarines.)

Furthermore, the US is developing an even larger, more advanced class of aircraft carrier with an outsized power core to support weapons of the future, like railguns and lasers.

A Nimitz-class aircraft carrier (top) compared to a Ford-class (bottom).

Here's more information on the Ford-class carriers »

Also, US carriers use a whole team of aircraft. Transport planes handle logistics; electronic warfare squadrons back up fighters; airborne warning and control planes -- AWACS, like the E-2 Hawkeye below -- transmit huge amounts of targeting data from the sky; helicopters hunt submarines and move personnel.

Other carriers boast fewer types of aircraft, and only the US operates carrier-based AWACS.

Read more about US carrier operations and aircraft »

To put things in perspective, this graphic shows the relative sizes of aircraft carriers from around the world.

Note that the USS Gerald R. Ford pictured in this graphic is slightly larger than the USS Nimitz aircraft carriers that now operate in the US Navy, but both vessels displace 102,000 tons.

And let's not forget that the US has more aircraft carriers than the rest of the world combined.

India's second aircraft carrier is not pictured here.

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