*** Beijing has embarked on an extensive project to build a modern, “blue water” navy which could operate around the world, and modernize its two million-strong military, the world’s largest.
*** A third home-made aircraft carrier was in the works, but the defense ministry has yet to confirm this;
*** The New York Times reports the construction of a third carrier, with a different design, has already begun at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai.
May 13, 2018 (DESPARDES/PKONWEB) — China’s first domestically manufactured aircraft carrier started sea trials Sunday, state media said, a landmark in Beijing’s ambitious plans to modernize its navy — officially the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy.
The carrier, known only as “Type 001A”, set out for the trials — which could last as long as a year — from a port in northeastern China at around 6.45 am (2245 GMT Saturday), according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Footage aired by CCTV showed the imposing ship accompanied by several smaller military craft leaving a wharf and heading out to sea under grey skies.
It is the first time the carrier’s engine, propulsion and navigation systems will be tested at sea, state media said, a year after the vessel first took to the water at its official launch.
Expected to be commissioned by 2020, the ship will give China a second aircraft carrier to beef up its navy as it asserts its presence in South China Sea and beyond.
China’s sole operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is a repurposed Soviet ship bought from Ukraine, which went into service in 2012.
Neither the Liaoning or the new ship are nuclear-powered, but both can carry around 40 planes and have similar “ski jump” ramps, an old launch system that forces aircraft to carry fewer weapons in order to hold more fuel for take-off.
The possession of a homegrown aircraft carrier places China among the few military powers with such vessels, including the United States, Russia and Britain.
But it would still be no match in size or range to the nuclear-powered vessels of the United States Navy, which has 11 carriers.
However, Beijing has embarked on an extensive project to build a modern, “blue water” navy which could operate around the world, and modernize its two million-strong military, the world’s largest.
“If you look at China’s acquisitions of facilities in the Indian Ocean and in Eastern Africa, they’re quickly developing the capability to maintain a naval presence in distant waters,” Boston College professor of political science Robert Ross told CNN.
Chinese state media have been speculating that a third home-made aircraft carrier was in the works, but the defense ministry has yet to confirm this.
However, according to several reports cited by The New York Times and the South China Morning Post, the construction of a third carrier, with a different design, has already begun at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai.
China observers have said previously that the long-term plan is to have at least six carriers deployed, with two carrier strike groups in the Indian Ocean, two in China’s periphery including the South China Sea, and two for the Western Pacific theater.
“The third carrier will be capable of using an electromagnetic aircraft launch system. The fourth may witness breakthroughs in its power units,” Li, a Chinese expert said.
The China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation confirmed earlier this year that it was focusing on developing nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
Unlike the nuclear-powered American carriers, the two Chinese carriers use conventionally powered engines, limiting their range and ability to stay at sea.
China’s defense budget rose 8.1 percent to 1.1 trillion yuan ($175 billion) in 2018, but it is still only about one-quarter that of the United States.
Since taking office, President Xi Jinping has driven an ambitious effort to modernize the country’s military, reducing the traditional focus on readying the ground forces of the People’s Liberation Army to defend against an invasion of the mainland and increasing the emphasis on technology-dependent naval, air and missile forces.
Between 2010 and 2017, the Chinese Navy increased its complement of ships from 210 to 320, including another 18 in 2016 alone, said Ross.
By comparison, the active US fleet currently sits at approximately 272 ships, he said.