Last month, The Diplomat reported that China could have as many as seven operational aircraft carrying ships by 2025, including four carriers and three smaller aircraft carrying vessels.

Interest in the Chinese Navy’s carrier plans spiked after the 2012 deployment of the Liaoning, a Soviet heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser design purchased and revamped by China and even more so with the launch of the Type 001A, China’s first domestically-built carrier, earlier this year.

Liaoning, China's only aircraft carrier (File)

Matthew Funaiole, a analyst with the China Power Project at the Washington, DC-based Center for Strategic & International Studies, says that whereas China’s first two carriers were really aimed at helping the Chinese Navy get its bearings in the use of aircraft carriers, the Type 002 is the ship naval observers should really watch out for.

If the third carrier does have some catapult-assisted launch system, that will be a huge step forward for China. They would very quickly have moved closer to what current technology is.

In this undated photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a carrier-borne J-15 fighter jet lands on China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning

Replacing the ski jump-assisted launch systems used on China’s current first generation carriers with an electromagnetic catapult system will enable planes to carry more fuel and ammunition, thus increasing the range and power of the carrier strike group.

The biggest challenge for China is trying to figure out how to get a nuclear-powered reactor on the ship,” he argued. Without nuclear propulsion, China’s carriers will remain less efficient, slower, and have a shorter service life than their US counterparts.

Funaiole’s estimation, notwithstanding China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation’s ambitions to field a nuclear-powered carrier by 2025, the Type 002 will likely be diesel-based.

According to Funaiole, it is totally realistic to expect China to build between four and six aircraft carriers over the next decade, with areas of deployment including the South China Sea and perhaps even the Indian Ocean.

Sputnik / ABC Flash Point Military News 2018.

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