Forgive me if I sound stupid, but what if you put the catapult towards the landing deck rather than the ski jump.
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That is not stupid and it is a valid suggestion. The main issues will whether the costs (both monetary and opportunity) and time required justifies the investment.
The CV16 and 17 are China’s only carriers for the foreseeable future, than such a modification would certainly be a lot more justifiable.
However, with CV18 already launched and rumours of nuclear carriers potentially already under construction, just how much added utility would such a refit give the PLAN? Especially when the dry dock facilities and workers who would be needed for the refit would also be needed for new carrier construction. On top of that, you will be taking two perfectly serviceable operational carriers offline for years just as you are bringing additional new carriers online, which will completely mess up your entire carrier pilot training pipeline.
Not only are the Liaoning and Shandong important operational carriers with operational capabilities and responsibilities, they are also the cornerstone of the PLAN’s pilot training programme so that they can bring Fujian and future nuclear carriers up to full combat capabilities ASAP. And the pace of the PLAN adding carriers to the fleet is likely to only accelerate for at least a generation.
Even in 20-30 years time, once the PLAN has 10 CV18 and nuclear carriers operational, they will probably still be loathed to take Liaoning or Shandong out of service for years at a time for a catapult refit since with that many carriers, the routine training needs across the fleet will probably justify a dedicated training carrier.
At that point, rather than do a full MLU, which would be the perfect time for a catapult, they may well choose to just do some quick sensors upgrades and keep CV16 and 17 working as full time training carriers just to maintain the competency of its carrier pilot regiments to cover for refit and repair cycles of the mainline combat carriers as well as taking into consideration maintenance rotational requirements of CV16 and 17.