All eyes will be on whether the Type 001A, China’s first aircraft carrier built with indigenous effort, can accomplish the home stretch of her year-long series of trial sails towards official commission.
Senior party cadres hope that the 70,000-ton seagoing airbase can splash down in China’s littoral waters to stoke a frenzy of patriotism and pride ahead of Beijing’s pomp and circumstance to mark the 70th anniversary of the Communist republic.
There are signs that problems could be graver than mere teething issues, and the vessel may miss the big bash day on October 1. But a formal entry into service by the end of the year is still within sight.
The carrier, sporting the same ski-jump ramp on her bow as the one on her sister ship the Liaoning, is now at sea again, straight after a four-day sail last week from homeport, Dalian, in waters cordoned off in the Yellow Sea close to the port.
Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television, a pro-Beijing media outlet, reported that the two sea trials – or the resumption of one sail interrupted by an emergency return – could be indication that technical issues cropped up offshore requiring immediate repairs.
Propulsion or communication failures could be the cause, as other glitches may not need immediate attention.
It is also reported that the spick and span ship is yet to satisfy all initial operational capability requirements, although it has passed muster as an operational warship.
When the carrier set sail and returned to its home port, a few fighter jets including a J-15, as well as a Z-20 helicopter,were spotted sitting on its flight deck, likely for take-off-and-landing training during the sea trials.
The South China Morning Post also cited a source as saying that the People’s Liberation Army had taken delivery of more than 50 J-15 jets and groomed dozens of carrier-based pilots. It said the elite squad would be deployed on both the Liaoning and the Type 001A.