China’s first domestically-built aircraft carrier is reportedly “all set” for commissioning by the end of the year after it put to sea for the eighth time on Tuesday.
Chinese papers hinted that it could be the last sea trial before the 70,000-ton vessel graduates to becoming a fully-fledged sea-going airbase to join the Chinese military and add to its naval capabilities.
The carrier’s sea trial is scheduled to end on October 22. It was announced earlier this week that the provincial maritime authority had cordoned off a large swathe of water in the Bohai Sea off Dalian, the homeport of the not-yet-christened warship, where it was also built.
Such voyages during the past two years often involve the new ship carrying a few J-15 fighter jets as well as aircraft arresting gear in waters that are off-limits to civilian vessels. The carrier is referred to as the Type 001A in state media and it was launched in April 2017 at the Dalian Shipyard.
The carrier’s propulsion, communication and navigation systems have presumably been tested to ascertain reliability throughout its recent cruises in the Bohai Sea and Yellow Sea since the beginning of this year and those trips could have involved the launching and recovery of aircraft.
Still, the time it has taken before going into service has been longer than expected. Its sister ship, the Liaoning, took a little over one year to complete 10 sea trials in 2012, after Chinese shipbuilders refurbished and repurposed a Soviet-built hull purchased from Ukraine in the 1990s.
The Type 001A is an evolution of the earlier Admiral Kuznetsov-class carrier with a host of indigenous tweaks to the original Soviet design, and thus more caution and a loose timeframe for trials were warranted.
Observers say the new ship is on track to enter service by the end of the year at a propitious time when Beijing needs more naval assets to project power in the South and East China Seas.
Future Chinese carriers will be bigger and more potent with each ship under construction or being planned to narrow the gap with the supercarriers in service with the US Navy.
A third ship is swiftly taking shape at Shanghai’s Jiangnan Shipyard and is expected do away with the curled-up bow for a flattop look with a cutting-edge electromagnetic catapult to launch fighter jets, and the fourth one may even be nuclear powered.
Meanwhile the US Navy has 10 Nimitz Class aircraft carriers and the first of the next-generation, USS Gerald R. Ford, is expected to start deployments in the coming years.