Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have been spotted on the People's Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN) first made-in-China aircraft carrier, Shandong.
According to Andreas Rupprecht, an expert on Chinese military aviation, this could be the first time UAVs have been seen on Shandong's deck.
In late April, Chinese state media reported that Shandong was undergoing "its first scheduled maintenance and refurbishment" at the Dalian Shipyard after two years of service "to enhance the flattop's usability".
In March, the aircraft carrier sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, which separates China and Taiwan. Back then, it was reported that the carrier "did not have aircraft on its deck" as it sailed norrth.
China currently has two aircraft carriers. Its first carrier, built from the refitted hull of an old Soviet-era vessel, entered service in 2012. Shandong, its second, was commissioned into the PLAN two years ago in a high profile ceremony attended by President Xi Jinping.
Satellite imagery has revealed that the PLAN has made significant progress in the construction of its third aircraft carrier. Called Type 003, the carrier has been under construction since 2018 at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, part of the world's largest shipbuilder China State Shipbuilding Corporation.
The carrier is not only larger than its predecessors but also represents a major technological leap for China and will significantly upgrade the capabilities of the PLAN, now the largest navy in the world in terms of the number of vessels.
PLAN's Type 003 will feature a flattop flight deck with a catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) system for the launch and recovery of aircraft from the deck of an aircraft carrier, an upgrade over the short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) system used on China's Liaoning and Shandong aircraft carriers and India's INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant.
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