Tensions in Taiwan Strait: Is the New Chinese Aircraft Carrier up to Standard?

CommentaryThe Taiwan Strait has long been a focal point of U.S.-China contention, with the U.S. military asserting that the risk of conflict never diminished despite turmoil in other parts of the world. The present time has become the most dangerous moment for the region.On May 3, during a handover ceremony at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Museum in Hawaii, Adm. John Aquilino, former commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (Indopacom), transferred the torch to the new commander, Adm. Samuel Paparo.During the ceremony, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said China is the only country with “both the will and … the capacity to dominate the Indo-Pacific,” and it “continues to engage in increasingly coercive behavior” in the Taiwan Strait, South China Sea, and beyond.Adm. Aquilino noted the present as the “most dangerous time” in his 40-year tenure of service but said that Indopacom is ready for these challenges.“I will sleep soundly—as a matter of fact, it will be the first time I’ve slept in three years—knowing that Pappy [Adm. Samuel Paparo] is at the controls,” he said.Related StoriesAdm. Paparo pushed for accelerated experimentation with unmanned systems during his time in the Pacific Fleet. In 2022, he established the Navy’s first Unmanned Surface Vessel Division. He also advocated for a force of hundreds or thousands of small drones to help repel a potential invasion of Taiwan by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) forces.Adm. Aquilino said Beijing aims to invade Taiwan by 2027 and called for international attention. The deadline is based on CCP leader Xi Jinping asking “his military to be prepared if tasked to execute [an invasion] in 2027,” he told the media while visiting Japan on April 23.Invade Taiwan Before 2027?Although Xi denied in late 2023 that a timetable exists for invading Taiwan between 2027 and 2035, this does not contradict the preparations being made for a potential invasion by 2027. Whether the CCP has a timetable is unclear. Still, people can see that Beijing is accelerating the development of offensive military equipment, with the most notable being the construction of the third aircraft carrier, the Fujian. Observers are particularly attentive to the speed at which the CCP is increasing its naval vessels and building new aircraft carriers.The public has been speculating about what the CCP’s preparation for invading Taiwan by 2027 means. In fact, it’s not difficult to gauge based on what it is currently doing, which mainly involves two main aspects: preparing the force structure and developing key weapons systems.First, China’s ongoing military reforms are not progressing smoothly. The recent dissolution of the Strategic Support Force and the creation of the Information Support Force—widely interpreted by analysts as indicative of underlying issues in personnel and structure—underscores this challenge.Regarding weapons systens, one of the main focuses is on the development and construction of aircraft carriers.Three years remain until 2027, which is enough time for a brand-new aircraft carrier to go from sea trials to combat readiness. In other words, while other equipment continues to develop, the Fujian, a new conventionally powered aircraft carrier that may carry fifth-generation shipboard aircraft, could enter a combat-ready state. This could be one of the main indicators of the CCP’s preparation for invading Taiwan by military means.The Pentagon is particularly concerned about Beijing’s speed in building and increasing its naval vessels. What worries the Pentagon even more is that the Fujian replicates critical elements of the U.S. Navy’s Ford-class aircraft carrier, such as flat deck space and electromagnetic catapult system.Admiral John C. Aquilino discusses U.S.-China strategic competition at the Paley Center for Media in New York City on May 23, 2023. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)Currently, the Fujian is undergoing sea trials, highlighting the existence of the Chinese regime’s aircraft carriers, their capabilities, and their construction speed. The CCP has deployed dual aircraft carrier battle groups like the U.S. Navy. This means the Chinese navy is rapidly expanding its global power projection capability to establish a presence, exert influence, and even control specific regions through maritime and aerial attack capabilities.It aligns with the communist regime’s consistently demonstrated expansionist ambition, aiming to become the dominant global power and extend its influence far beyond the Pacific region. Despite the CCP’s intention to deploy only three aircraft carriers in the future, which is significantly fewer than the U.S. Navy’s 11 carriers, concerns are mounting over the regime’s accelerated equipment development facilitated by integrated military-civilian production capabilities. This rapid progress indicates a potential narrowing of the gap with the U.S. military.CCP Aircraft Carrier Not as Strong as USHow dangerous is the CCP’s aircraft carrier fleet?Does the U.S. Na

Tensions in Taiwan Strait: Is the New Chinese Aircraft Carrier up to Standard?

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Commentary

The Taiwan Strait has long been a focal point of U.S.-China contention, with the U.S. military asserting that the risk of conflict never diminished despite turmoil in other parts of the world. The present time has become the most dangerous moment for the region.

On May 3, during a handover ceremony at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Museum in Hawaii, Adm. John Aquilino, former commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (Indopacom), transferred the torch to the new commander, Adm. Samuel Paparo.

During the ceremony, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said China is the only country with “both the will and … the capacity to dominate the Indo-Pacific,” and it “continues to engage in increasingly coercive behavior” in the Taiwan Strait, South China Sea, and beyond.

Adm. Aquilino noted the present as the “most dangerous time” in his 40-year tenure of service but said that Indopacom is ready for these challenges.

“I will sleep soundly—as a matter of fact, it will be the first time I’ve slept in three years—knowing that Pappy [Adm. Samuel Paparo] is at the controls,” he said.

Adm. Paparo pushed for accelerated experimentation with unmanned systems during his time in the Pacific Fleet. In 2022, he established the Navy’s first Unmanned Surface Vessel Division. He also advocated for a force of hundreds or thousands of small drones to help repel a potential invasion of Taiwan by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) forces.

Adm. Aquilino said Beijing aims to invade Taiwan by 2027 and called for international attention. The deadline is based on CCP leader Xi Jinping asking “his military to be prepared if tasked to execute [an invasion] in 2027,” he told the media while visiting Japan on April 23.
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Invade Taiwan Before 2027?

Although Xi denied in late 2023 that a timetable exists for invading Taiwan between 2027 and 2035, this does not contradict the preparations being made for a potential invasion by 2027. Whether the CCP has a timetable is unclear. Still, people can see that Beijing is accelerating the development of offensive military equipment, with the most notable being the construction of the third aircraft carrier, the Fujian. Observers are particularly attentive to the speed at which the CCP is increasing its naval vessels and building new aircraft carriers.

The public has been speculating about what the CCP’s preparation for invading Taiwan by 2027 means. In fact, it’s not difficult to gauge based on what it is currently doing, which mainly involves two main aspects: preparing the force structure and developing key weapons systems.

First, China’s ongoing military reforms are not progressing smoothly. The recent dissolution of the Strategic Support Force and the creation of the Information Support Force—widely interpreted by analysts as indicative of underlying issues in personnel and structure—underscores this challenge.

Regarding weapons systens, one of the main focuses is on the development and construction of aircraft carriers.

Three years remain until 2027, which is enough time for a brand-new aircraft carrier to go from sea trials to combat readiness. In other words, while other equipment continues to develop, the Fujian, a new conventionally powered aircraft carrier that may carry fifth-generation shipboard aircraft, could enter a combat-ready state. This could be one of the main indicators of the CCP’s preparation for invading Taiwan by military means.

The Pentagon is particularly concerned about Beijing’s speed in building and increasing its naval vessels. What worries the Pentagon even more is that the Fujian replicates critical elements of the U.S. Navy’s Ford-class aircraft carrier, such as flat deck space and electromagnetic catapult system.
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Admiral John C. Aquilino discusses U.S.-China strategic competition at the Paley Center for Media in New York City on May 23, 2023. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
Admiral John C. Aquilino discusses U.S.-China strategic competition at the Paley Center for Media in New York City on May 23, 2023. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

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Currently, the Fujian is undergoing sea trials, highlighting the existence of the Chinese regime’s aircraft carriers, their capabilities, and their construction speed. The CCP has deployed dual aircraft carrier battle groups like the U.S. Navy. This means the Chinese navy is rapidly expanding its global power projection capability to establish a presence, exert influence, and even control specific regions through maritime and aerial attack capabilities.

It aligns with the communist regime’s consistently demonstrated expansionist ambition, aiming to become the dominant global power and extend its influence far beyond the Pacific region. Despite the CCP’s intention to deploy only three aircraft carriers in the future, which is significantly fewer than the U.S. Navy’s 11 carriers, concerns are mounting over the regime’s accelerated equipment development facilitated by integrated military-civilian production capabilities. This rapid progress indicates a potential narrowing of the gap with the U.S. military.

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CCP Aircraft Carrier Not as Strong as US

How dangerous is the CCP’s aircraft carrier fleet?

Does the U.S. Navy have genuine concerns about the Fujian because it adopts a similar electromagnetic catapult system to that of U.S. aircraft carriers?

It seems not.

The U.S. military believes that the Chinese aircraft carrier fleet does not pose a real threat to the U.S. Navy due to the limited capabilities of its carrier air wing. Aircraft carriers can only maximize their combat power within the range achievable by their carrier air wing. No matter how advanced the aircraft carrier is, it is only a mobile platform for supporting fighter aircraft.

The CCP does not yet have a fifth-generation stealth fighter capable of maritime launch. It is developing a prototype similar to the F-35C called the J-31, but it has not yet been put into mass production or equipped with the military. Even if the J-31 has been finalized, it may not be possible to complete mass production and form combat capability within three years.

In fact, it is difficult to say what the J-31 actually is. It is not a naval variant of the J-20 but more like a fifth-generation carrier-based aircraft developed specifically for the Chinese navy. In this sense, it is entirely different from the F-35, which is an independently developed joint multi-role fighter, not specifically designed for the Chinese navy but later evolved into two carrier-based variants based on the U.S. Navy’s requirements.

Isn’t it a bit strange for the CCP to develop a fifth-generation aircraft specifically for its navy?

Even if it may be equipped with the air force or the army in the future, it is not of the concept of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. The connotation of “joint” is even greater than that of the F-35 fighter, which involves a broader range of joint battlefield information control. It makes the F-35, which has flight performance far inferior to the F-22, become the most influential main fighter in the United States and the West. It is still in mass production today, even in short supply. The regime’s plagiarism is superficial and lacks substance.

China’s fifth-generation fighter J-20 is limited to taking off from land and requires aerial refueling and forward bases to maximize its effectiveness. Furthermore, there’s no record of the fifth-generation fighter’s aerial assault capabilities at sea. It is improbable that the Chinese navy will possess a fifth-generation aircraft carrier by 2027. In comparison, the U.S. Navy reportedly carries over 40 F-35Cs on one aircraft carrier, and up to 20 F-35Bs have been deployed on the America-class amphibious assault ship. Thus, the U.S. Navy will have a significant aerial advantage if a blue-water naval battle breaks out.
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Chinese J-20 stealth fighters of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) perform at the Airshow China 2022 in Zhuhai City, Guangdong Province, China, on Nov. 8, 2022. (CNS/AFP via Getty Images)
Chinese J-20 stealth fighters of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) perform at the Airshow China 2022 in Zhuhai City, Guangdong Province, China, on Nov. 8, 2022. (CNS/AFP via Getty Images)

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In this view, whether China’s deployment of the Fujian in 2027 would be perceived as preparations for invading Taiwan or aligning with the CCP’s goals will depend on the situation at that time.

The most immediate questions are: How many naval-type fifth-generation fighters would the CCP need to produce by 2027 to pose a credible aerial threat to the United States and its regional allies, such as Japan and South Korea? Is it feasible to develop the capability to attack Taiwan within the span of several years? The CCP authorities are probably the only ones who know the answers.

At this stage, any Chinese naval force is highly vulnerable to attack by forward-deployed U.S. F-35s and the growing number of land- and sea-based F-35s in Japan and South Korea. Meanwhile, the U.S. forward deployment in the Philippines has also realized the ability to conduct precision strikes from land against any maritime target in the Taiwan Strait, the Bass Strait, and the Philippine Sea.

Japan has recently completed the first step in modifying two helicopter frigates—JS Izumo (DDH-183) and JS Kaga (DDH-184)—capable of carrying about a dozen F-35Bs. Therefore, even with the arrival of the Fujian, China will still be at a disadvantage in maritime air power. It will be difficult to pose an imminent or direct threat to Taiwan, the United States, or their regional partners.
The CCP has reportedly begun construction of a possible nuclear-powered fourth aircraft carrier. It appears that the regime’s continued development, construction, and operation of aircraft carriers—at significant cost to the nation—are not only focused on the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea but also beyond the Pacific Ocean.

So is the Chinese regime’s development of aircraft carriers related to the military preparations for invading Taiwan?

The answer is likely yes. Given that an attack from the Taiwan Strait would have minimal impact on the critical capabilities of Taiwanese forces positioned on the island’s eastern side, the Chinese military would need to encircle the Philippine Sea to form a closed perimeter around Taiwan. This scenario underscores the necessity of an aircraft carrier. However, the execution of such an operation is contingent upon the success of China’s so-called anti-intervention/area denial strategy, which is why the CCP prioritizes this approach.

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The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 100) transits the Taiwan Strait during a routine transit on Aug. 27, 2021. (U.S. Navy/AFP/Getty Images)
The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 100) transits the Taiwan Strait during a routine transit on Aug. 27, 2021. (U.S. Navy/AFP/Getty Images)

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The primary method for the United States to counter this CCP strategy involves forward deployment in the Indo-Pacific region. The recent advancements in close military collaboration with Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines signify notable progress in this regard.

Meanwhile, the United States has also been strengthening the air defense capabilities of its carrier strike groups and is making significant progress with various types of air defense missiles, including upgraded variants of the Standard Missile-3 and Standard Missile-6.

Indeed, the CCP’s preparations and military assets aimed at attacking Taiwan, such as naval and air fleets, encounter equivalent or potentially greater risks in the Western Pacific than those faced by the United States and its regional allies. If the CCP is willing to risk its aircraft carriers, the result will likely be a failure.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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