Is China’s Fourth Aircraft Carrier Nuclear-Powered? Navy Political Commissar Says: Will Be Announced Soon

China is on the brink of entering the era of four aircraft carriers, with the upcoming announcement of its fourth carrier sparking widespread attention—especially regarding its propulsion system.

China already possesses two aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong, both of which utilize conventional steam turbine propulsion. While this system is mature and reliable, it has drawbacks such as limited range, the need for frequent refueling, and relatively high noise levels that can be detected by adversaries.

Thus, there is significant anticipation among Chinese military enthusiasts for the construction of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Nuclear propulsion offers clear advantages, most notably the ability to operate indefinitely without needing to dock for fuel, quieter operation for improved stealth, and greater electrical power for aircraft, potentially including the use of electromagnetic catapults, a more advanced technology than traditional steam catapults.

In the development blueprint of the Chinese Navy, building a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is considered a key goal. Such an advancement would not only demonstrate the nation’s technological and manufacturing prowess but also has strategic implications for naval operations and long-range missions.

However, constructing a nuclear-powered carrier involves numerous technical challenges, including the design and safety of nuclear reactors, radiation protection, and maintenance. Thus, realizing this plan requires substantial technical and experiential groundwork.

Recent discussions about whether China’s fourth carrier will be nuclear-powered have garnered significant attention. During the National People’s Congress in 2024, Navy Political Commissar Yuan Huazhi stated in an interview that there are no technological bottlenecks in China’s current aircraft carrier construction, and that the propulsion system of the fourth carrier will be announced soon. This statement has led to speculation that China may have successfully applied nuclear technology to its fourth carrier.

However, some remain skeptical, noting that Yuan’s statement does not necessarily mean the fourth carrier will be nuclear-powered and may relate to other new technologies or design features. The construction of a nuclear-powered carrier involves complex technical issues, including reactor safety, radiation protection, and maintenance, areas where China may still need more time and experience.

Regardless of the propulsion system chosen for the fourth carrier, the ongoing modernization and development of the Chinese Navy demonstrate its rising global naval power. This progress is strategically significant for enhancing national technological strength, defense capabilities, and national security.

The propulsion system of China’s fourth aircraft carrier is a subject of widespread speculation and anticipation. The Chinese people are proud of the rise of their navy, viewing aircraft carrier development not only as a critical national defense initiative but also as an important symbol of China’s strength on the global stage. A powerful carrier fleet will help maintain national sovereignty and interests, contributing to world peace and stability.

While there are intriguing clues about the fourth carrier’s propulsion system, the final outcome remains undisclosed. Navy Political Commissar Yuan Huazhi’s statement during the National People’s Congress in 2024 has attracted widespread attention, but whether it indicates the use of nuclear power has yet to be confirmed. Some believe it could involve other new technologies or design features, as constructing a nuclear-powered carrier may involve complex technical issues requiring more time and experience.

Regardless of the outcome, the propulsion system of China’s fourth aircraft carrier will be a significant reflection of the Chinese Navy’s strength. China looks forward to achieving greater accomplishments in the future development of its navy, aspiring to become one of the world’s leading aircraft carrier powers. For the future of its carriers, China hopes they will play a larger role in safeguarding national interests and promoting peace and stability.