China has moved closer toward its goal of operating domestically made aircraft carriers as it officially launched the first on April 26 in Dalian, Liaoning province.
The ship is the largest and most sophisticated surface vessel China has ever built.
General Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, took part in the launch ceremony at a shipyard in the northeastern coastal city. Fan’s presence indicated the significance Chinese leaders attach to the colossal ship, because only the most important equipment for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would have top-level officers at the public debut ceremony.
The carrier was towed from its dry dock and then moored at an outfitting berth, according to a news release published by the military after the ceremony.
Currently, the PLA Navy operates a single aircraft carrier, CNS Liaoning, which originally was an incomplete Soviet-era vessel and received an extensive refit at the Dalian shipyard, where the new carrier is being constructed, before going into service in September 2012.
The new carrier was designed in China and construction began in November 2013. Work in the dry dock started in March 2015, and when launched its propulsion and power systems had already been installed, the military said.
In the next phase, the carrier will start the outfitting process and engineers will test and fine-tune equipment already mounted on the ship, the news release said. During the outfitting stage, engineers and workers will complete installation of the ship’s interior equipment and systems, as well as its weaponry.
At the same time, the mooring trials will be conducted to verify the carrier’s overall design and equipment.
The new carrier’s name and hull code remain unknown, as the Navy usually makes public such information when a ship is commissioned.
It will have a displacement of about 50,000 metric tons and a conventional propulsion system. It will carry domestically developed J-15 fighter jets and other ship-borne aircraft, Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun has previously said. He noted that the ship will use ski jump style takeoffs for fixed-wing aircraft, the same as the Liaoning.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on April 26, in response to questions on the carrier’s launch, that China’s military is being developed as a defensive posture and the nation pursues peace.
“We develop military forces, including the Navy, to safeguard the country’s sovereign security and development interests and to maintain world peace,” he said in a regular news briefing.
Major General Chen Zhou, a senior strategy researcher at the PLA Academy of Military Science, said in March that the second carrier is not the end of China’s aircraft carrier program, as the nation will build more.