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‘China builds dedicated drone carrier’

by Marco van der Hoeven

China has built the world’s first dedicated drone carrier, constructed at a shipyard on the Yangtze River, reports Naval News. This vessel, China’s fourth aircraft carrier, has not been seen until recently, despite being launched in December 2022. Unlike China’s other aircraft carriers, the new vessel seems specifically designed for fixed-wing drones.

It is smaller, with a flight deck about one-third the length and half the width of typical U.S. Navy or Chinese Navy supercarriers. Its design, reminiscent of World War II escort carriers in size but with a straight deck, suggests it is not meant for traditional aircraft operations. The absence of space for a typical aircraft hangar further supports its specialization for drone use.

Drones are becoming increasingly important in naval warfare, with several navies experimenting with them on regular aircraft carriers. However, the development of dedicated drone carriers is still in its early stages. This new Chinese carrier is notable for its catamaran hull, a design often proposed for aircraft carriers but never before realized.

The ship’s flight deck can accommodate drones with wingspans of around 20 meters, akin to Chinese equivalents of the Predator drone. The presence of a flight deck implies intended aircraft recovery, though the specifics of launch and recovery systems remain unclear.

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