China floats world’s first drone aircraft carrier – Asia Times

China floats world's first drone aircraft carrier - Asia Times

China has unveiled the first dedicated aircraft carrier in the world, indicating a potential serious shift in its naval energy projection with cost-effective unmanned aerial operations in a potential conflict with the US.

The first focused helicopter carrier built by China at the Jiangsu Dayang Marine port on the Yangtze River was revealed this month by Naval News. According to the report, the design is somewhat shorter but wider than World War II chauffeur companies and is smaller than normal aircraft operators.

The design permits fixed-wing aircraft to fly from it, but the flat deck arrangement would be a cliche and may limit the number of aircraft it may carry, according to the report.

Leading navies are now testing drones from standard aircraft carriers, which is becoming increasingly common in naval warfare.

For instance, Iran’s Shahid Mahdavi helicopter provider is a rebuilt business cargo vessel. Turkey repurposed its TCG Anadolu amphibious assault ship, which was intended to carry F- 35 soldiers, into a helicopter aircraft after being removed from America’s F- 35 programme in 2019.

Naval News notes China’s built- for- purpose drone carrier’s uncommon design, with a wide- set catamaran hull and lower flight deck, suggesting that aircraft try to land on it.

The statement notes that China’s helicopter carrier is probably intended to carry huge fixed-wing UAVs at ocean because the country has a long history of simulating ships from Western and Western-leaning navies in its tool testing program, including anti-ship ballistic missile tests on full-size outlines of US Navy aircraft carriers.

According to Naval News, the shipyard has already constructed two large drone motherships and some high-tech target barges. Known as” Electronic Blue Force”, they perform as opposing forces in education.

China’s aircraft carrier may be operated more cheaply from shore, according to the report from the Naval News, or it could serve as an experimental program for testing and developing drone operations at sea.

China’s fresh drone provider may have major implications for providing significantly higher energy projection capabilities for less than an aircraft carrier.

The previously unreported drone carrier ( A ) is longer than two identical drone motherships ( C, D). Additionally, there are several high-tech target barges ( B, F), including one that looks like an aircraft carrier ( E ). Image: X Screengrab / Naval News

Alexander Gates mentions that helicopter carriers have the same power projection advantages as regular aircraft carriers in an October 2023 article in the UK Defense Journal, allowing states to conduct robotic flying operations at greater distances from their territorial areas. Gates says this raises available military, functional and strategic choices.

He notes that autonomous systems are a safer and more price- effective alternative to guarded aircraft, making them suitable for hazardous tasks such as intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and gentle attack operations, both at sea and on land.

Gates mentions that drone carriers offer a cost-effective and practical way for middle-income nations to extend their airpower capabilities over long distances without relying on land bases.

He claims that such states could expand their unmanned aerial defenses to low- and moderate-intensity conflict areas with coastal access, giving allies new options to support their militaries and defend offies with little or no air defenses.

However, he says until unmanned aircraft can establish air superiority, drone carriers will not mark a “revolutionary moment” in military affairs. He makes the case that environments with capable air defense systems and electronic warfare have a severe restriction on drones ‘ operational freedom.

Given those restrictions, Gates contends that aircraft carriers will still be necessary in the near and long run.

China will likely launch drone swarms from land and ships to obliterate Taiwan’s air defenses in a potential conflict in preparation for more extensive air and missile strikes as a prelude to an amphibious assault.

According to Zachary Kallenborn, drone swarms can be used on almost any mission, including attacking transport and landing craft, playing the tactical role of mortars, and more.

However, Kallenborn points out that developing and maintaining large, multidomain drone swarms that are integrated into a specially designed mothership for transportation requires significantly more technical skill, resources, logistics, production, and maintenance abilities than developing and maintaining small quadcopter swarms.

He adds that because of the additional resources, technical expertise, and infrastructure required, these restrictions that apply to individual drones will also affect drone swarms, especially if they are designed to be stealthy and have radar-absorbing materials.

China may also be aware of the risks posed by its aircraft carriers and look to develop drone carriers to combat them. China may choose to add drone swarm capability to existing warships or to expand its light carriers.

The staggering costs of running aircraft carriers and their growing vulnerability will, according to Asia Times, make them potentially ineffective in contemporary warfare.

From China’s perspective, US and allied efforts to build a “missile wall” in the First Island Chain stretching from Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines could imperil its fledgling carrier fleet.

China’s ability to enter the open Pacific can be impeded by US and allied missile batteries in the First Island Chain, preventing a flanking maneuver via the Miyako Strait and the Bashi Channel against Taiwan.

China should reconsider its concept of an aircraft carrier and lessen its reliance on a few large, expensive, and potentially vulnerable ships, in order to achieve this.

On April 18, 2018, China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier conducts a drill in the South China Sea. Photo: Asia Times Files / AFP / Getty Images

One solution may be to modify its Type 079 amphibious assault ships into FC- 31 stealth fighter light carriers, similar to the US “lightning carrier” concept.

China’s land-based airfields and airbases in the South China Sea may offer a marginal value compared to China’s ability to build a fleet of light carriers to spread out its naval aviation and strengthen its defenses against US and allied threats.

They would also be exposed to attack from US and allied submarines, aircraft and long- range missiles.

At the same time, light carriers’ tiny air wings mean they can suffer from an “offensive- defense” dilemma. In addition, deploying more aircraft in an attack would render the carriers vulnerable, while retaining more aircraft for fleet air defense would reduce the attack force.

China might also incorporate drone swarm capability into larger combatants like the Type 055 cruiser and Type 052D destroyers. These drones could be launched from bolt-on box launchers or vertical launch systems (VLS ).

The addition of a sizable capability to these warships ‘ already potent weaponry could be made possible by a fraction of the Type 055 cruiser’s 128 VLS tubes or the Type 052D’s 64 VLS tubes, which can hold multiple swarming drones per tube.

However, making some VLS tubes available to accommodate swarming drones could squander valuable space to mount more advanced weapons, like the YJ- 21 hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile, on these warships.