‘China may complete, launch new carrier soon’

‘China may complete, launch new carrier soon’

CHINESE CARRIER This May 31, 2022 satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows China’s Type 003 aircraft carrier under construction at the Jiangnan Shipyard, northeast of Shanghai. MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES IMAGE VIA AP

BANGKOK: China’s most advanced aircraft carrier to date appears to be nearing completion, satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press (AP) showed on Friday, as experts suggested the vessel could be launched soon.

The newly developed Type 003 carrier has been under construction at the Jiangnan Shipyard northeast of Shanghai since 2018. Satellite images taken by Planet Labs PBC on May 31 suggest work on the vessel is close to being done.

The launch has been long anticipated, and constitutes what the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank called a « seminal moment in China’s ongoing modernization efforts and a symbol of the country’s growing military might. »

CSIS noted in a report that China often pairs military milestones with existing holidays and anniversaries. It suggested that the vessel could be launched as soon as Friday to coincide with the national Dragon Boat Festival, as well as the 157th anniversary of the shipyard’s founding.

In the satellite images, the carrier’s deck can be clearly seen. In an image taken last Tuesday through wispy clouds, equipment behind the carrier appears to have been removed, a step toward flooding the entire drydock and floating the vessel. Pictures earlier this month showed work ongoing.

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Cloud cover blocked Planet Labs satellites from capturing images of the shipyard from Wednesday to Friday.

China’s Ministry of National Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Though no launch was announced, state-run newspaper Global Times ran last Tuesday a story quoting reports that it « could be launched soon. »

It added that the Chinese navy released in April a promotional video on the country’s carrier program « in which it implied that the country’s third aircraft carrier will be officially revealed soon. »

Though the United States Department of Defense estimates that the carrier won’t be fully operational until 2024, as it first needs to undergo extensive sea trials, the carrier is China’s most advanced yet. As with its space program, China has proceeded extremely cautiously in the development of aircraft carriers, seeking to apply only technologies that have been tested and perfected.

Its development is part of a broader modernization of China’s military as it seeks to extend its influence in the region. China already has the largest navy in the world in terms of numbers of ships, but it’s nowhere near the capabilities of the US Navy.

Among other assets, the US Navy remains the world’s leader in aircraft carriers, with its forces able to muster 11 nuclear-powered vessels. The Navy also has nine amphibious assault ships, which can also carry helicopters and vertical-takeoff fighter jets.

The Chinese carrier’s expected launch comes as the US has been increasing its focus on the region, including the South China Sea. The vast maritime region has been tense because six countries — including the Philippines — claim all or part of the strategically vital waterway, through which an estimated $5 trillion in global trade travels each year and which holds rich but fast declining fishing stocks and significant undersea oil and gas deposits.

China has been far and away the most aggressive in asserting its claim to virtually the entire waterway, its island features and resources.

The US Navy has sailed warships past Chinese-held manmade islands in the sea, which are equipped with airstrips and other military facilities. China insists its territory extends to those islands, while the Navy says it conducts the missions there to ensure the free flow of international trade.

Once mainly a coastal force, China’s navy has in recent years expanded its presence into the Indian Ocean, the Western Pacific and beyond, setting up its first overseas base over the last decade in the African Horn nation of Djibouti, where the US, Japan and others also maintain a military presence.

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