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China’s third aircraft carrier, which is still under development, will feature steam catapults to launch more heavily armed Shenyang J-15 multi-role aircrafts that might have new engines by the time this carrier takes to sea in the 2020s.

Photos of a J-15 Flying Shark with a catapult launch bar on its nose wheel confirm China is testing a Catapult-Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) on its “land based” aircraft carrier at Wuhan in Hubei Province. Media reports claim China is speeding-up development of its own CATOBAR system based on that in use by the U.S. Navy.

However, according to chinatopix.com, this innovation also means extensive modifications to the existing J-15 fighters now aboard China’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. None of these planes are outfitted for a catapult launch. Either this or China plans to produce new J-15s with launch bars and arrester hooks that enable a jet to land safely on a carrier.

Because of its many deficiencies, among which are its unreliable engines and the unreliable engines on its J-15s, the Liaoning is classified as a training carrier unfit for combat by the People’s Liberation Army Navy .

There hasn’t been official confirmation of the third carrier’s construction or visible evidence of any work related to this project. There is, however, speculation that production of the initial modules for the carrier is in progress.

The third carrier will likely have a larger aircraft complement than the Liaoning or the modified second carrier, the Type 002 that will still have the ski jump.

The Liaoning can embark 36 aircraft: 24 J-15 fighters; 6 Changhe Z-18F anti-submarine warfare helicopters; 4 Changhe Z-18J airborne early warning helicopters and 2 Harbin Z-9C rescue helicopters.