06:38 GMT +321 September 2018
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    Chinese Shipbuilder Hints at New Aircraft Carrier Modifications (PHOTOS)

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    Computer-generated imagery has appeared on Chinese social media showing that Chinese strategists are considering a new aircraft launching system that is not seen on either of the two aircraft carriers used by the Chinese navy.

    Beijing's ambitious quest to build a premier navy includes plans for several carrier strike groups, though the total number envisioned is not clear. While the Liaoning and the Type 001A, China's first two aircraft carriers, rely on an elevated ski-jump at the bow of the ship to lift departing planes into the air, an artist's rendering of China's next carrier suggests that future Chinese aircraft carriers will rely on a catapult mechanism instead of the ski-jump.

    ​The China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) uploaded this picture Wednesday onto social media accounts, which appears to show a carrier with a flat deck flanked by two Chinese carriers with lipped bows, indicating that the People's Liberation Army-Navy's next carrier may not rely on ski-jumps for take offs, an expert told the South China Morning Post.

    ​"From the information that is currently available, I would say a carrier with a catapult launch system is very much on the horizon," China-based military expert Zhou Chenming told the newspaper. The catapult launch system would allow aircraft to fly longer ranges and enable the ships to put aircraft into the air at a faster rate.

    CSIC removed the images not long after posting them, China's Global Times reported. The image comes from a CSIC board room, SCMP noted.

    Zhou told the Post that "despite the odd manner in which the image was released, it was not unusual for such information to be disseminated subtly."

    While Zhou was confident the image signaled that future carriers would actually look like the computer-generated image, some netizens downplayed the significance of the "imaginary" photo.

    ​In any event, the aim of building a carrier with a catapult system is clear: last August, other computer-generated images of a flat-deck Chinese carrier circulated social media sites as well — and commentators downplayed the significance of the images as "fan art" then, too.

    ​Most of the world's navies that have aircraft carriers use the ski-jump system that Liaoning and Type 001A use; only the US Navy's Nimitz- and Ford-class carriers and the French Navy's aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle presently use catapult systems to launch aircraft.

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