As the Chinese Navy or The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) heads to aggressively tackle its rival navies in seas, its aircraft carrier fleet is seeing a vigorous expansion – and a new type of futuristic ‘drone mothership carrier’, intended to house unmanned aerial vehicles and an EMALS aircraft launch system.
Based heavily on the Type 075 landing helicopter dock, the next-generation assault carrier Type 076 is expected to have and operate unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) which would be complemented by an electromagnetic catapult launch system (EMALS) – allowing it to carry better payload than conventional ski-jump counterparts.
Out of the total planned three Type 075 helicopter carriers, two have been launched last year with a third currently under construction. It has a displacement of approximately 40,000 tonnes while accommodating 20 to 30 aircraft.
The ships shall, as for now, only carry rotorcraft or rotary-wing aircraft till the Chinese development of a VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft is completed- like the American Harriers or the new F-35B.
The aircraft carriers of the Type 075 class sport a spacious deck, bigger than the Australian Canberra Class or French Mistral Class, second only to USS America or USS Wasp in terms of size and tonnage. To compare, India’s newest full-fledged aircraft carrier INS Vikrant also has a similar tonnage to the Type 075.
However, this would probably be the world’s first attempt to make a carrier for fixed-wing UCAVs, which comes with its own advantages. First, it requires less maintenance and takes up less space. Secondly, they might be more efficient than their manned counterparts.
Plans for this type of investment comes notably after China has emerged as a world leader in the manufacture and usage of drones, fielding more classes of UAVs/UCAVs than any other nation- ranging from smaller swarm drones to ‘Sharp Sword‘ stealth drones to Wing Loong- the copy of the American Predator-B drones. It had also revealed the new WZ-8 high-speed reconnaissance drone.
The advancement in China’s design and development of UAVs has been critical to its possible decisions to go on with a drone-carrier vessel. China is building destroyers at a much faster rate than any other country, launching between 6 and 10 of the ships per year in the final years of the 2010s, and its new Type 055 Class destroyers are widely considered the most capable and most heavily armed in the world.
The Type 076 is also speculated to have attack and surveillance helicopters to aid in amphibious landing and assaults and anti-submarine warfare.
It is not yet known if the Type 076 will be attached to a carrier battle group or carry a battle group of its own. Whatever the case, it would provide the PLA Navy with an advanced capability which could be a serious threat to any country in the region.