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IPFS News Link • China

China Builds World's First Dedicated Drone Carrier

•, H I Sutton

Hidden away in a shipyard on the Yangtze, far upriver from the major yards at Shanghai, is a new aircraft carrier. It's China's fourth, a ship whose mere existence has not been reported before. Only China can build an aircraft carrier in relative secrecy.

This ship, launched in December 2022 but not reported until now, is surrounded by mystery. Naval News, together with J. Michael Dahm, Senior Resident Fellow at the Mitchell Institute, have been analyzing it.

Mysterious Drone Carrier

The world knows about China's first three carriers; the largest and most capable, the Type-003 Fujian, is currently undergoing sea trials. This new carrier is very different. Its claim to fame will not be that it is larger. Instead, we are confident that this ship is the world's first dedicated fixed-wing drone carrier.

The design is smaller than the regular aircraft carriers, with a flight deck approximately one third the length and half the width of a U.S. Navy or Chinese Navy (PLAN) super carrier. For comparison, it is slightly shorter but wider than a World War Two escort carriers. It would be possible to operate fixed wing aircraft from it, but its straight deck arrangement would be anachronistic, not allowing aircraft to take off and land at the same time. Additionally there doesn't appear to be space for a typical aircraft hangar, so the number of aircraft would be greatly limited. It does make sense as a drone carrier however.

Analysis of the ship

It is immediately apparent that it is, in general arrangement, an aircraft carrier of some sort. It has a marked runaway running along the port (left side) with an island superstructure on the starboard (right) side. 

Drones are an increasing part of naval warfare. Leading navies are already trialing them from regular aircraft carriers. And some navies, notably Iran and Turkey, are working on plans for 'drone carriers'. But this space is still in its infancy.