China’s navy just got stronger … much stronger.
Its second aircraft carrier, the country’s first domestically built one, the Shandong, was delivered and commissioned to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in Sanya, South China’s Hainan Province, Global Times reported.
The commissioning marked China’s entry into an age of double carriers, an achievement that will enrich the Navy’s tactical and strategic choices in time, space and sheer power, experts said.
Overseen by President Xi Jinping, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, the aircraft carrier received a grand commissioning ceremony at a naval base in Sanya.
Xi endorsed a PLA flag and naming certificate to the captain and political commissar of the carrier at the ceremony, which was held Tuesday afternoon with about 5,000 people in attendance.
Construction of China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier Shandong, began in November 2013. It was launched in April 2017 at the Dalian Shipyard, Northeast China’s Liaoning Province.
In May 2018, the ship set out for its first sea trial. It conducted eight more sea trials, with the ninth one in November this year that saw the warship leaving Dalian, heading south, passing through the Taiwan Straits, entered the South China Sea, and finally arrived in Sanya, its mother base.
Military analysts believe the Shandong was built based on the experience of China’s first carrier, the Liaoning, which was an incomplete Soviet ship that China purchased and completed construction.
Having a displacement of around 40,000-60,000 tons and using a similar ski-jump flight deck as the Liaoning, the conventional-powered Shandong is equipped with more advanced electronic devices and control and command system, and built with an optimized superstructure and internal layout.
Thanks to these improvements, the second carrier is much more powerful, analysts said. For example, it can carry 36 J-15 fighter jets, compared to the Liaoning’s 24, according to a China Central Television (CCTV) report in August.
Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Global Times that this shows China’s comprehensive national strength, with a very high level of naval equipment and technologies applied. China’s development in large ship design and construction, ship-aircraft integration and weapon system is maturing, Li said.
Technical aspects aside, the more imminent impact the commissioning of the Shandong has on the PLA Navy is that it now has an additional aircraft carrier, which gives the Navy more tactical and strategic options in using carriers.
Having one carrier in the east and another in the south will ensure fast reaction time when the presence of an aircraft carrier is needed, a military expert who asked not to be named told the Global Times.
The US has been frequently sending warships and aircraft into Chinese territorial waters and airspace in the South China Sea, and China could use the carrier as a deterrent, the expert said.
The second aircraft carrier based in the south can effectively patrol the South China Sea, protect islands and reefs there and act as a strategic foothold at sea, Beijing-based military analyst Wei Dongxu told the Global Times.
While the Liaoning could go from the East China Sea to the Pacific Ocean and train more pilots and officers, Shandong could sail from the South China Sea into the Pacific Ocean and even go to the Indian Ocean, Wei said.
One carrier could also stay near the mainland for alert missions, while the other could sail farther away into high seas for long-range missions, analysts said.
Together with escorting guided missile destroyers like the Type 055 and Type 052D, frigates like Type 054A, as well as submarines and supplemental ships, the aircraft carriers could provide formidable power that China did not have in the past.
Despite Shandong’s commissioning, China’s aircraft carrier development still lags far behind that of the US, which operates 11 super carriers in Nimitz and Ford-classes. They are nuclear-powered and have displacements of over 100,000 tons. They are also capable of accommodating more than 75 aircraft.
China is reportedly building a third, larger and more advanced aircraft carrier — raising concerns in the Pentagon. It’s believed this carrier will be far more formidable.
Jin Yi’nan, a professor at National Defense University of the PLA, said on CCTV in November that the third carrier is under construction at Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai.
Military experts speculate the third carrier could have a displacement of around 80,000 tons, use flat deck with electromagnetic catapults to replace the ski-jump deck, thus making it capable of carrying more aircraft in terms of both number and type, and launching fighter jets more efficiently.