BEIJING ( Associated Press) – Beijing on Friday launched a new-generation aircraft carrier, the first to be both designed and built in China, a milestone as it seeks to expand the range and power of its navy. .
State media reports said the Type 003 carrier Fujian left its drydock at a shipyard outside Shanghai in the morning and tied up at a nearby pier.
State broadcaster CCTV showed Navy personnel standing beneath the ship at large as jets of water sprayed onto its deck, multi-colored streamers flew and colored smoke was released.
Equipped with the latest weapons and aircraft-launching technology, the Type 003 ship’s capabilities are expected to rival those of Western carriers, as Beijing seeks to transform its navy, already the world’s largest, into a multi-carrier force.
Satellite imagery captured by Planet Labs PBC on Thursday and analyzed by the Associated Press showed the carrier completely submerged at Jiangnan Shipyard near Shanghai, ready for launch. It was wrapped with a red bandage, probably in preparation for the launch ceremony.
“This is an important milestone for China’s military-industrial complex,” said Ridzwan Rahmat, a Singapore-based analyst at defense intelligence company Jens.
“This shows that Chinese engineers are now capable of producing the full suite of surface combat aircraft associated with modern naval warfare, including corvettes, frigates, destroyers, amphibious assault ships and now an aircraft carrier,” he said. “The ability to build a very complex warship from the ground will inevitably result in various spin-offs and benefits for the Chinese shipbuilding industry.”
China’s first carrier was a reconstructed Soviet ship, and its second was built in China but based on a Soviet design. Both were built for aircraft to employ the so-called “ski-jump” launch method, with a ramp at the end of the short runway to help take off the planes.
The Type 003 employs a catapult launch, which experts said appeared to be an electromagnetic-type system, originally developed by the US Navy. China’s official Xinhua News Agency confirmed that Fujian employed the electromagnetic system in a report on Friday’s launch.
Such a system would put less stress on the aircraft than the older steam-type catapult launch system, and the use of catapults meant the ship would be able to launch a wider variety of aircraft, which the Navy would be able to project to China. required to be able to. Power to a great extent, Rahmat said.
“These catapults allow the aircraft to carry a much wider load of weapons in addition to external fuel tanks,” Rahmat said.
“Once it is fully operational, PLAN’s third carrier will also be able to deploy a more complete suite of aircraft associated with carrier strike group operations, including carrier onboard delivery transport and airborne early warning and the KJ-600. like controlling the airframe.”
China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, has been modernizing for more than a decade as a “blue water” force – capable of operating globally rather than staying close to the Chinese mainland.
At the same time, America is focusing its attention on this region including the South China Sea. The vast maritime sector has been tense as six governments lay claim to all or part of the strategically important waterway through which an estimated $5 trillion in global trade travels each year and which has rich but rapidly depleting fishing stocks and There are significant underwater oil and gas deposits.
China has been the most aggressive in asserting its claim to almost the entire waterway, its insular features and resources.
The US Navy has sent warships past China’s artificial islands in the sea that are equipped with airstrips and other military facilities. China insists that its territory extends to those islands, while the US Navy says it conducts missions there to ensure the free flow of international trade.
In its report to the US Congress last year on China’s military capabilities, the Defense Department said the carrier development program was critical to the Chinese Navy’s continued growth as a global force, “gradually expanding its operational reach beyond East Asia”. Expanding in capability to “work over long distances rapidly.”
The Defense Department said that China’s “aircraft carriers and planned follow-on carriers, once operational, will expand air defense coverage beyond the range of coastal and shipboard missile systems and enable the task group’s operations at much longer ranges.” Will do,” the Defense Department said.
In recent years, China has expanded its presence in the Indian Ocean, western Pacific and beyond, establishing its first overseas base in the last decade in the African Horn nation of Djibouti, where the US, Japan and others also maintain military presences. Huh. , It recently signed a security deal with the Solomon Islands that many fear could give it an outpost in the South Pacific, and is working with Cambodia on expanding a port facility that allows it to cross into the Gulf of Thailand. can make an appearance.
Xinhua reported the Fujian, which has hull number 18, had a fully loaded displacement of 80,000 tons. In a March report prepared by the US Congressional Research Service, however, analysts said satellite images suggested the Type 003 had a displacement of about 100,000 tons, similar to a US Navy carrier.
PLAN currently has about 355 ships, including submarines, and the US estimates the force will increase to 420 ships by 2025 and 460 by 2030. Despite being the largest navy in the world numerically, for now PLAN is still nowhere near the capabilities. The US Navy lags far behind other carriers.
The US Navy is the world leader in aircraft carriers with 11 nuclear-powered ships. It also has nine amphibious attack ships that can carry helicopters and vertical-takeoff fighter jets.
US allies such as Britain and France also have their own carriers, and Japan has four “helicopter destroyers”, which are not technically aircraft carriers, but carry aircraft. Two are being converted to support short take-off and vertical-landing fighters.
China’s new carrier was named after Fujian province on the country’s southeast coast, following a tradition of naming its first two carriers after Liaoning and Shandong provinces.
Its shipyard-launch ceremony was presided over by Xu Qiliang, a member of the ruling Communist Party’s Politburo and Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission led by President and party leader Xi Jinping.
A champagne bottle was broken on Fujian’s bow after Xu cut the ribbon for the launch, Xinhua news agency reported. Then the drydock doors opened and the ship went out into the water and tied up at its pier.
China’s development of the Type 003 carrier is part of a wider modernization of the Chinese military. Like its space program, China has proceeded extremely carefully in the development of aircraft carriers, seeking to apply only those technologies that have been tested and proven.
At the moment, China is not believed to have developed the aircraft to fully realize the potential of the new carrier, Rahmat said.
It is not known how close China is in development of its KJ-600 AWACS aircraft, which it began testing in 2020 to prepare it for carrier operations, and there is “little evidence” that it has taken on delivery transport on the carrier. Work has started. aircraft, he said.
Now that it has been launched, the carrier has to be fitted, which could take two to six months. Then there will be port acceptance tests and sea trials, which will likely take six months before engineers begin test loads using the catapult system.
“The first aircraft will be launched from this carrier only in late 2023 to 2024, and full operational capability is likely to be announced closer to 2025,” he said.
John Gambrel in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report. Rising was reported from Bangkok.