A J-15 fighter jet takes off from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Liaoning. (Photo/eng.chinamil.com.cn)

Media sources say China’s newest super carrier could very well sport the latest EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System) launch technology, similar to the US Navy’s newest operational aircraft carrier, the Gerald R. Ford.

China has been making steady progress building its third aircraft carrier, the first expected to match the “supercarriers” of the US fleet in size and capability, according to satellite photos and analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Richard Sisk of Military.com reported.

China’s Global Times also reported Sept. 13 that the new carrier could be launched late this year or early next.

The report also cited an unnamed military expert as saying that the new carrier will “likely” feature an electromagnetic aircraft launch system, similar to the newest operational US aircraft carrier, the Gerald R. Ford.

The 10 other carriers in the US fleet use steam-powered catapults to launch aircraft.

CSIS said that it is not yet possible to confirm whether the new carrier will have an electromagnetic launch system, “but unofficial sources suggest that China has made significant headway in developing this technology.”

In its report, CSIS included high-resolution satellite photos showing the carrier laid out in hull blocks at the Jiangnan shipyard on the outskirts of Shanghai, Military.com said.

CSIS estimated the length of the hull blocks at 297 meters, or 974 feet, but added, “As construction continues, we expect the vessel to lengthen by several meters with the addition of the flight deck.”

YouTube video

By comparison, the Ford’s length is 1,106 feet.

China currently has two carriers — the Liaoning, a converted Soviet-era warship, and the domestically-built Shandong. Both feature “ski jump” sloped flight decks to launch aircraft.

EMALS  uses a surge of electricity to generate electrical currents with strong magnetic fields.

It is supposed to be easier to operate, gentler on airplanes, and capable of launching more planes into the air in a shorter period of time than steam catapults.

Another advantage: The launch control system for electromagnetic catapults know what speed an aircraft should have at any point during the launch sequence, and can make adjustments during the process to ensure that an aircraft will be within 3 mph of the desired takeoff speed, Air & Space magazine reported.

In contrast, once a launch has begun in the steam system, adjustments cannot be made.

If too much steam is used, the nosewheel landing gear, which attaches to the catapult, can be ripped off the aircraft. If too little steam is used, the aircraft won’t reach takeoff speed and will tumble into the water.

An electromagnetic catapult can launch every 45 seconds. Each three-second launch can consume as much as 100 million watts of electricity, about as much as a small town uses in the same amount of time, Air & Space reported.

“A utility does that using an acre of equipment,” says lab engineer Mike Doyle, but due to shipboard space limitations, “we have to take that and fit it into a shoebox.”

In shipboard generators developed for electromagnetic catapults, electrical power is stored kinetically in rotors spinning at 6,400 rpm.

When a launch order is given, power is pulled from the generators in a two- to three-second pulse, like a burst of air being let out of a balloon, Air & Space reported.

As power is drawn off, the generators slow down and the amount of electricity they produce steadily drops.

But in the remaining 42 seconds between launches, the rotors spin back up to capacity, readying themselves to release another burst of energy.

In its annual report to Congress on China’s military strength issued Sept. 1, the Defense Department estimated that China’s third aircraft carrier could be operational by 2023, Military.com reported.

The report also said that China’s military has already surpassed the US in missile development, number of warships and air defense systems.