China’s first homegrown aircraft carrier will make its maiden voyage later this month.
China’s first homegrown aircraft carrier to set sail
The country already has one working aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which was mostly built in the waning days of the Soviet Union.
Soon after the Liaoning was handed over to the Chinese navy in 2012, the new aircraft carrier, which is still unnamed, began construction in Bohai Bay, northeast China.
Its systems are based on the design of the Liaoning. China’s military has touted the vessel as fully designed and built by Chinese shipbuilders.
Military sources told the South China Morning Post that an upcoming sea trial is likely to take place just before April 23, a key anniversary related to the founding of the Chinese navy.
“The maiden trial may just involve turning a circle in Bohai Bay, making sure every deck under the water does not suffer leaks,” said a naval source, who requested anonymity.
The trial would test the ship’s basic functions, including power systems, damage control and radar and communication systems, the source said.
He added the navy was concerned it could suffer problems similar to ones experienced by British aircraft carrier the HMS Queen Elizabeth, in which a faulty seal was blamed for leaks during a trial late last year.
If there are no leaks, the source said, the new ship may embark on an additional journey lasting two to three days.
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said the homegrown carrier will be tested multiple times before being handed over to the 235,000-strong Chinese navy.
“Once the ship joins the navy, it will also take a long time to turn it into a real combat ship,” he said.
Last month, the Chinese government announced it would boost total military spending in 2018 by 8.1%, to a total of $175 billion. This was the biggest such increase in three years.
Defense spending in China is closely watched for clues on its military strategy and intentions, as it flexes its muscles around the world.
Military sources say the new carrier could be fully operational by as early as 2019.
The unnamed new carrier will eventually sail with an escort of frigates, destroyers and other vessels as part of a battle group that can survey and attack targets on land, sea and air.
Military experts say it will take years for the Chinese navy to catch up to its US counterpart.
Li, the naval expert, believes the Chinese government plans to create at least four carrier groups to fulfil Beijing’s global naval ambitions and defend the country’s growing overseas interests.
That would imply the development and construction of another two aircraft carriers.
A third Chinese aircraft carrier, designed to use an advanced electromagnetic launching system, has already begun construction at a shipyard in Shanghai.
The American USS Gerald Ford supercarrier, delivered to the US Navy in May 2017, uses the same launch system.