Expert: China grasps main steam-powered catapult technologies

China Military
Yao Jianing

BEIJING, Sept. 30 (ChinaMil) –Chinese military expert Li Jie said on September 28 that China had basically grasped the main technologies of steam-powered catapult, but what kind of catapult will be used on China's second or third aircraft carrier is undecided yet.

News about China's aircraft carrier has made headline on foreign media lately. While many focused on the fact that China's first home-made aircraft carrier has completed island installation and the main body is about to be completed, the American technology magazine Popular Mechanics published an article on September 27, saying that China is imitating the catapult-assisted takeoff system of American aircraft carriers, especially electromagnetic catapult, which will impose immense impacts on the West Pacific region.

According to the article, for nearly sixty years, the U.S. Navy fighters have launched from aircraft carrier decks with steam-powered catapults. These catapults were created for carriers because they can safely accelerate large aircraft with big payloads.

Catapult-Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) operations soon became the norm for the U.S. Navy and a handful of its allies.

It is reported that although CATOBAR is powerful, it is expensive. So several navies— including Britain, Russia, Spain, and India—have adopted a similar but cheaper launch system called Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) for chucking planes airborne, and China's aircraft carrier Liaoning uses ski-jump takeoff method.

It is said that China is developing its own CATOBAR system, which has been confirmed in many ways including photos from mid-September of a Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark carrier-borne fighter. Attached to the fighter is what looks like a catapult "launch bar" on its nose wheel, which hooks up to the catapult during launch, according to the report.

USNI News also published airborne photos of a launch bar-equipped J-15 last week, sourcing a Chinese-language website. These images join others published in 2014 by IHS Jane's 360 of a launch bar-equipped J-15 on the ground.

According to the website of USNI NEWS, the carrier-borne fighter will be tested with land-based CATOBAR facility. Satellite imagery shows that the facility has been under construction at Huangdicun Airbase in Liaoning Province since late 2014 or early 2015.

Analysts also think there are two 460-foot-long catapults under construction on the northeastern corner of the same airbase. One of the catapults appears to be a conventional steam catapult, and the other an equivalent to the American Navy's Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS).

Popular Mechanics analyzed that if so, China is building a rough equivalent of the U.S. Navy's land-based carrier deck testing facility. The magazine also held that the Chinese PLA Navy wants these aircraft to expand the capability of its carrier air wings and its status as the power in the western Pacific.

The J-15 fighter jet equipped with launch-bar, as well as the CATOBAR testing facilities, demonstrates that China's goal could be coming into focus, according to the report.

Chinese military expert Li Jie said on September 28 that China had basically grasped the main technologies of steam-powered catapult.

Ma Weiming, an academician from the PLA Navy, once said some of China's electromagnetic catapult technologies were in no way inferior to America's. It's clear that China is advancing the development of carrier catapults smoothly, but apart from work for the catapult itself, its installation on the carrier will involve other issues such as power and system integration, all of which require further demonstration.

According to Li Jie, what kind of catapult will be used on China's second or third aircraft carrier is undecided yet.

It would be best if electromagnetic catapult could be used directly, but applying steam catapult first would be a wise and rational choice since we have a better grasp of this technology, Li Jie said.

Even the US hasn't completely grasped electromagnetic catapult technology yet and tests are still under way. Meanwhile, what type of ship-borne fighter will be adopted to match the catapult is another key factor, according to Li Jie.

Only J-15 is available for testing now, but it's quite heavy and its body was originally designed for ski-jump takeoff, so CATO will be a major challenge for it, Li Jie said.

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