Eyeing West Pacific, China launches first domestically-made aircraft carrier

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BEIJING, April 26
China has launched its second aircraft carrier, marking an incremental rise in its capacity to project power in the West Pacific. The aircraft carrier, called Type 001-A before it acquires a formal name, was transferred from dry dock into the water at a launch ceremony that started at about 9 a.m. at the Dalian shipyard of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation. Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) chaired the launch ceremony. President Xi Jinping, the chairman of the CMC, was not present at the launch. The new carrier, which is likely to christened Shandong, will supplement the Liaoning — China’s first aircraft carrier that was purchased from Ukraine, and commissioned in 2012. The Type 001-A is expected to enter service of the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) or PLAN by 2020, following other time-consuming. preparations such as the debugging of all on-board devises and sea trials. The launch coincided with the start of the installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system by the United States onto a golf course in Seongju, South Korea, in stated response to the North Korean threat. The new carrier will have a displacement of 50,000 tonnes, which means that the Type 001-A will be a mid-sized carrier, significantly smaller than the super-carriers operated by the United States, which are above 70,000 tonnes. Like the Liaoning, the new carrier is likely operating home-developed Shenyang J-15 fighter jets. Opinion among Chinese naval experts regarding the ideal size of China’s carrier-based strike groups has varied. The South China Morning Post (SCMP) is quoting Li Jie, a researcher at the Naval Military Studies Research Institute, as saying that China would require at least three aircraft carriers to defend its maritime interests.
“Among three carrier fighting groups, just one would be able to carry out operational missions because one would be used for training, while the third would have to undergo maintenance,” he said. Li also dismissed speculation that China would emerge as a three-carrier navy by 2020, with one ship deployed in the East China Sea and two in the South China Sea. “It’s impossible for China to complete the construction of three carrier fighting groups by 2020 based on current shipbuilding capabilities and other technical reasons,” he observed. Mr. Li said that China had a limited capacity to produce aircraft carriers as it had only two yards — one in Dalian and another in Shanghai’s Jiangnan shipyard. Some Chinese experts propose that China would require five to six aircraft carriers, a capability nowhere in the horizon, to project power simultaneously in the West Pacific, as well as the Indian Ocean-India’s core area of concern.

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