BEIJING – China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier began sea trials on Sunday, a historic step in the country’s mission to build a navy capable of rivalling the world’s leading maritime powers.
The new aircraft carrier, temporarily named Type 001A, sailed out at around 7 am in Dalian, in the northeast province of Liaoning, according to reports in Chinese state media.
The 50,000-tonne ship will become the country’s second aircraft carrier and the first to be entirely built and designed inside of China when it joins the navy sometime before 2020.
The carrier’s maiden sea trial follows a speech given by Chinese President Xi Jinping on April 12, in which he announced plans to build a “world-class” navy under the banner of the Chinese Communist Party.
China’s first carrier, the Liaoning, a retrofitted Soviet-era vessel bought from Ukraine, was hailed as the fulfilment of a “70-year dream” of the Chinese nation when it launched to much celebration in 2012.
Bigger and better
China’s second aircraft carrier will be “modernized” compared to its first, experts said, with a design that’s bigger and heavier to allow it to carry more planes.
The basic design for the new aircraft carrier is clearly modelled heavily on the Liaoning, including the signature ski-jump inclination at the front from which aircraft lift off.
The ship, which is roughly 315 meters (1,033 ft) in length and 75 meters (246 ft) wide, uses conventional rather than nuclear propulsion and is believed to displace 50,000 tonnes, according to reports in state media.
Speaking to the media, RAND Corporation senior international defense research analyst Timothy Heath described the design as generally easier to build and to operate aircraft from.
But expert analysis of pictures and satellite images of the new China-built vessel reveals it has been altered in subtle ways, possibly allowing it to accommodate up to eight additional aircraft.
By comparison, the Liaoning is thought to currently carry around 30 warplanes, including fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.