There is still no indication when China’s first home-made aircraft carrier will enter service, despite the fact that it has concluded its second sea trial last week.
The carrier is now moored at its home port of Dalian in northeastern China.
The sea trials – first by technicians from the Dalian Shipyard under the China Shipbuilding Industry Corp and then by People’s Liberation Army seamen – may continue for a year or two after the ship’s maiden voyage in May.
The prevailing view among naval experts is that the new carrier, which uses the construction code of Type 001A as a name at present, will be commissioned by no later than 2020.
The carrier was built quickly, a mere one-year hiatus from flooding its dry dock to its first sail, after the hull was constructed in a five-year period starting in September 2013.
The Kanwa Defense Review speculated in its September issue that the new carrier could also serve as a command and control center of not only its future strike group, but also for other groups of warships and aircraft, in a bid to form a joint blue-water power projection of China’s navy.
The three-story bridge on the new whip with a narrow stem and protruding upper floors is taller compared with the one on the Liaoning, the ship the indigenous carrier is modeled on.
The bridge with a smaller footprint on the deck leaves more space for aircraft, such as four extra J-15 carrier-based fighters, while its active electronically scanned array antennas are mounted outside the bridge’s spacious upper floors.
The new carrier also draws noticeably deeper than the Liaoning, indicating a bigger hangar and even more voluminous dormitories for the PLA pilots and seamen, even though photos of the vessel’s interior are nearly non-existent on the internet thanks to the elusive nature of the military.
Statistics-wise, the Type 001A displaces 70,000 tons in full load, about 2,500 tons more than its predecessor.
Toronto-based military commentator Andrei Chang has also pointed out that, hot on the heels of the new carrier, the Dalian Shipyard may start building the next generation of aircraft carriers right away – the Type 002 with the much-hyped electromagnetic catapults.
He also believes that the China State Shipbuilding Corporation’s Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai may also be contracted to construct another Type 002 carrier, before it buckles down to build the nation’s first nuclear-powered flattop.
Beijing has shown a determination to expedite the construction of more carriers. An underlying reason is the Liaoning has only 10 to 15 years before the end of its service life.
Laid down in Ukraine in December 1985 as the Riga, the carrier was abandoned and left to decay after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The colossal carcass then spent the ensuing decade floating in the Black Sea until Beijing’s painstaking effort to purchase and tug the stripped hulk to Dalian at the turn of the new millennium.