Taiwan’s military has highlighted the threat posed to the self-governing island by China’s third and most advanced aircraft carrier. The Fujian is expected to enter service next year after completing sea trials.
In the Ministry of National Defense’s 2023 report, there were also calls for developing a decentralized command platform across military services based on lessons learned from observing Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Released last week, the report revealed that the Chinese-designed Fujian incorporates major technological advances over the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s two existing carriers, both based on a Russian design.
Most significantly, aircraft taking off from the ship will be boosted into flight with three electromagnetic catapult devices, which are more effective than the steam devices used on other carriers.
Electromagnetic catapults are used only by the United States on its most advanced Gerald R. Ford-class carriers.
The added power allows for heavier aircraft and shorter runways, which combined with other design improvements will allow the Fujian to carry as many as 40 jet fighters, according to Taiwan’s report.
China’s two previous carriers can handle 18 and 32 fighters respectively.
“This is a major maritime threat that we must actively deal with in the future,” Major General Huang Wen-Chi, the assistant deputy chief with the General Staff for Intelligence of Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, said in releasing the report last week.
The study said the Fujian will enhance China’s ability to seal off the Taiwan Strait, potentially delaying or preventing the US military from entering the theater to defend the island in the event of a Chinese attack.
While Taipei sees the vessel as a major threat, independent analysts point out that much of the technology is new to China and so far untested.
Even the US Navy encountered challenges when it began using electromagnetic catapults, according to Kitsch Liao, the assistant director of the Global China Hub at the Atlantic Council.
“A problem that [the US military] often encounters is that the catapult is too accurate. Every time it is ejected, it will cause a lot of structural stress on the aircraft, which may damage the aircraft very quickly,” he told Voice of America.
“The US military has its own way of solving this problem, and I am not sure whether the PLA has a way to solve it,” he said.
China also lags behind the US in training its pilots to fly off carriers like the Fujian, according to Richard Chen Yeong Kang, a former Taiwanese Navy admiral and now an adviser to the Taiwan Center for Security Studies.
He estimated the combat effectiveness of Chinese pilots is only 30% compared to their American counterparts and said it may reach only 50% after five years.
Liao estimated it would take two years of training for the Fujian to achieve real ocean-going combat capabilities.
The National Defense Report also recommended that Taiwan improve its ability to survive an attack by developing a “common operating picture” of increased communication and coordination across the territory’s military services and with its allies.
Taiwan confirmed in May that, with American assistance, it will obtain the NATO Link-22 radio system to connect with the US.
According to the Financial Times in June, Washington is expected to begin delivering four MQ-9B drones to Taiwan in 2025.
By then, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has said, the island expects to begin sharing real-time intelligence with the United States and Japan and building a “common operating picture” with those two countries.
Academic Lin Ying-yu, a member of an advisory committee to the National Defense Report, said that in the early stages of a war, the PLA would likely give priority to attacking Taiwan’s main military command center and early warning radars in Taipei.
That makes it imperative for the island to switch to a decentralized command and control system, the assistant professor at the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University pointed out.
Lin said that will require improved personnel training and upgraded equipment.
“It is already difficult for Taiwan to conduct joint operations. What’s more, how do you conduct good command when all branches of the military are under attack and in a chaotic situation,” he questioned in an interview with VOA.
“In addition to technology, it is important for personnel to be able to communicate across branches,” he said.
Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.
Chuang Chih-wei reports for Voice of America from Taipei in Taiwan.
The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.