First home-made Aircraft Carrier launched by China amid tensions
China on Wednesday launched its first indigenously-built aircraft carrier which will join an existing one bought from Ukraine, boosting its military capabilities amid worries about Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea.
The 50,000 tonne new carrier was transferred from a dry dock into the water at a launch ceremony in northeast Dalian shipyard of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corp (CSIC).
- The new Type 001A carrier is expected to be formally commissioned sometime before 2020 following the completion of sea trials and the arrival of its full air complement.
- Like the 60,000-ton Liaoning, the new carrier is based on the former Soviet Union’s Kuznetsov class design, with a ski jump-style deck for taking off and a conventional oil-fueled steam turbine power plant. That limits the weight of payloads its planes can carry, its speed and the amount of time it can spend at sea relative to American nuclear-powered carriers. The new vessel is 315 metres long, 75 metres wide and has a cruising speed of 31 knots.
- Initial news reports did not give the carrier’s name. However, Chinese media speculated it may be called “Shandong” because it is docked at the Qingdao carrier base in Shandong province.
- The new carrier will carry 24 Shenyang J-15 fighters, based on the Russian Sukhoi Su-33, along with 12 helicopters for anti-submarine warfare, airborne early warning and rescue operations. That compares to 85-90 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters carried by a Nimitz-class carrier.
- The new carrier looks similar to the Liaoning, but military experts said its layout, equipment and overall operational concept are advanced, including a bigger hangar to carry more J-15 fighter jets and more space on deck for helicopters and other aircraft.
- China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was bought from Ukraine in 1998. When commissioned, this will be the nation’s first domestically-built carrier. China will become the seventh country with the capability to build its own carriers aircraft after the US, Russia, Britain, France, Italy and Spain.
EXPANSION OF CHINESE NAVY
- The new carrier is part of an ambitious expansion of the Chinese navy, which is projected to have a total of 265-273 warships, submarines and logistics vessels by 2020, according to the Washington DC-based Center for Naval Analysis. That compares with 275 deployable battle force ships presently in the US Navy, China’s primary rival in the Asia Pacific. Meanwhile, China’s naval expansion is also fueling a reported push for a five-fold expansion of the marine corps to as many as 100,000 troops.
- China has been modernising its armed forces recently as its economy expands. In March, it announced it would increase its military budget by about 7% this year – the second year in a row that increases have been less than 10%, after nearly 20 years of larger increases.
- China’s defence budget remains smaller than that of the US, however. While China’s military spending will be about 1.3% of the country’s projected GDP in 2017, the US spends roughly 3% of its economic output on the military – and the US economy is larger, so the dollar value difference is enormous.
- Recently state-run People’s Daily quoted military experts as saying that the third aircraft carrier to be built in Shanghai may be nuclear powered.
- China may be planning to build at least two, and possibly as many as four, additional carriers, with one of them, the Type 002, reported to be already under construction at a shipyard outside Shanghai. These carriers are expected to be closer in size to the US Navy’s nuclear-powered 100,000-ton Nimitz class ships, with flat flight decks and catapults to allow planes to launch with more bombs and fuel aboard. The US operates 10 aircraft carriers, has 62 destroyers to China’s 32, and 75 submarines to China’s 68.
- Earlier reports said Chinese navy which now has an expanded role among the military is set to raise its marine forces from 20,000 to one lakh as it started setting up logistic bases in Gwadar port in Pakistan and Djibouti in Africa.
NORTH KOREAN CRISIS
- The launch comes amid China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea. China claims almost all of the South China Sea, despite objections from the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam. China has also created artificial islands in the area, outfitting some of them with military features.
- The launch also comes amid heated rhetoric between the US and North Korea in recent days.
- The US has deployed warships and a submarine to the Korean peninsula, prompting an angry reaction from North Korea. China has urged for calm.