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VIDEO: China Launches First Domestic Aircraft Carrier

China’s Type-001A Carrier following its launching ceremony on April 26, 2017. Ministry of National Defense Photo

This post has been updated with additional information from naval analysyts.

China has launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier in a ceremony at a northern Chinese shipyard on Wednesday.

The 50,000-ton Type-001A carrier was launched in a flurry of ticker tape and confetti from its dry dock at the Dalian Shipyard just after 9 A.M. local time on Wednesday (9 P.M. EDT, Tuesday).

“A bottle of champagne was broken on the aircraft carrier as a customary way of blessing the ship,” read a statement from the Chinese National Ministry of Defense.
“After that, the new aircraft carrier was slowly towed out of the dockyard and transferred to the wharf.”

The Type-001A is based on the Kuznetsov-class Russian carrier Liaoning, the incomplete aircraft carrier Beijing bought in 1998, refurbished and commissioned in 2012.

According to imagery released by the People’s Liberation Army Navy, like Liaoning, the new carrier will rely on a Short Take Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) system of launching aircraft with fighters launching from a so-called skip-ramp at the bow of the ship.

The new carrier was modified from the original design to include a new S-band radar system, a smaller island to maximize the number of aircraft aboard and changes to the ski-ramp launching system.

Reports from the PLA say the new carrier would field an unspecified number of Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark – an unlicensed copy of the Russian Sukhoi Su-33 fighter.

The Chinese quietly began construction of the Type-001A in 2013 at the same shipyard the Liaoning was with analysts guessing the nature of the construction through photos posted on the Chinese language internet.

In late 2015, after almost two years of speculation, Chinese officials confirmed the construction of the Type-001A in an unexpected press conference.

“After taking into account a range of factors, the relevant authorities launched work on developing a second aircraft carrier, and we are now undertaking our own indigenous design and construction,” Col. Yang Yuju, according to a translation of a Chinese language transcript of the Dec. 31 press conference.
“We have a long coastline and a broad maritime jurisdiction… Defending national maritime security, and safeguarding sovereignty over territorial seas and over maritime rights and interests, are sacred duties of China’s armed forces.”

China’s Aircraft Carrier Future

Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark prepare to launch on from carrier Liaoning

China is thought to have already begun construction on its second domestic carrier – Type-002 — at the Jiangnan Changxingdao shipyard near Shanghai.

Unlike the new Type-001A and Liaoning, the new carrier is expected to field a catapult launching system allowing a wider variety of aircraft to operate from the carrier. Satellite images of the nearby Huangdicun Airbase in Liaoning Province show what appears to be electromagnetic and steam catapult launching test systems.

“Developing its own CATOBAR system, and fitting it on China’s future aircraft carriers will enable the PLAN to operate a well-rounded carrier air wing that includes force multipliers such as Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft, which tend to be heavier and use less-powerful, but more efficient engines,” wrote USNI News contributor Mike Yeo in September.

Still, what China intends to do with the carriers is less than clear.

“China wants to sail a gradually increasing number of aircraft carriers into the center of growing blue water operations. The evidence is growing in Chinese shipyards and ports across the Indian Ocean and beyond,” Andrew Erickson, an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) and author of a recent book on Chinese naval shipbuilding, told USNI News on Wednesday.

Beijing has flirted with transparency in expressing its aircraft carrier goals. Government documents and officials have said China was set to pursue a four-carrier force over the last eight years.

Buried in its 2010 Ocean Development Report, China declared it would pursue development of its own domestic carrier program. It took six months for the detail to make it into the Western press.

“In 2009, China put forward an idea and plan for building aircraft carriers. These indicate China has entered the historical era of building a maritime superpower,” read a translation of the report.

Three years ago, a Chinese party official declared Beijing was set to build four carriers in a state report, but the government quickly deleted the instance.

A four-carrier force would mimic traditional carrier deployment patterns in which there are three carriers in maintenance or workups for every carrier deployed.

“This is likely just the beginning of China’s fledgling naval aviation capabilities as their maritime forces build towards a large well-balanced fleet capable of protecting and projecting Chinese interests in the Pacific and potentially around the world,” Eric Wertheim, author of U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets, told USNI News on Wednesday.

The Liaoning carrier strike group underway

The following is the complete April 26, 2017 release from the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China.

DALIAN, April 26 (ChinaMil) — The launching ceremony of China’s second aircraft carrier was held at the Dalian Shipyard of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation(CSIC) on the morning of April 26, 2017. Gen. Fan Changlong, member of the political bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC) attended the ceremony and delivered a speech.

The ceremony was kicked off in magnificent national anthem at 9:00 and a bottle of champagne was broken on the aircraft carrier as a customary way of blessing the ship. After that, the new aircraft carrier was slowly towed out of the dockyard and transferred to the wharf.

The second aircraft carrier is domestically built by China. China started building it in November, 2013. At present, the main hull of this aircraft carrier has been completed and the main system devices including power supply have been installed in place.

Undocking and launching is one of the important nodes of a new aircraft carrier construction, marking that China has made significant phased achievements in designing and building an aircraft carrier independently. Next, the aircraft carrier will debug its system devices and conduct fitting-out as planned, and start mooring tests in an all-round way.

The PLA Navy Commander Shen Jinlong,PLA Navy Political Commissar Miao Hua, and CSIC President Hu Wenming also attended the ceremony.

  • On Dre

    21st century battleships.

    • Oskar

      Says the keyboard commando…

  • Thomas Bow

    How is the propulsion system powered? Is it nuclear?

    • The Chinese carriers are not nuclear, which pretty much restricts their usage to nearby waters in a defensive role. The claim of China territorial waters into the South China Sea based on the nine-dash line was made in 1947 by our nationalist China allies, two years befor Mao took over mainland China.

      • @USS_Fallujah

        The PLAN has shown the capability to support naval forces all the way to the east coast of Africa. No reason to think their CVs can’t operate into the Indian Ocean, Philippine Sea or Sea of Japan. Surviving against US forces for any amount of time in those areas is unlikely, but if their intention is to intimidate India, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. these CVs definitely add to that capability.

      • El_Sid

        The Chinese carriers are not nuclear, which pretty much restricts their usage to nearby waters in a defensive role.

        In the same way that the Falklands are “nearby waters” to the UK, or Midway is near the US?

    • incredulous1

      all they did was put their SPY-1 rip-off on the island, otherwise it is 1984 stuff. But their goal was to be quick, not new tech. In fact I think this launch was expected in late summer, originally to counter the commissioning of the JDS Kaga, but probably brought forward due to US threats against the DPRK and the presence of more US carriers in the region than planned.

    • Oskar

      A quick search will give you the answer.

  • mtent57

    I’m betting it’s permanently docked due to overwhelming maintenance issues within five years.

    • @USS_Fallujah

      Do we have reason to believe the Chinese aren’t skilled engineers & shipbuilders?

      • incredulous1

        There is no shortage of evidence of that given a little research, but also important is the quality and design of critical systems and the fact that complaining about something not working properly is not accepted in the PLAN, whereas we want to know about such things

      • Oskar

        Their history of shoddy workmanship…

        • @USS_Fallujah

          What history? Looking specifically at shipbuilding and the PLAN buildup I see no evidence they aren’t making fully capable ships – at least mechanically. The quality of the electronic and combat systems is unknown (as far as I know), but they aren’t towing ships home.

        • muzzleloader

          Although this ship is modeled after Kuznetsov, it is not the Kuznetsov, nor was it built in a Russian shipyard. I am no expert on marine engineering but I imagine the Chinese learned of the deficiencies of the Kuznetsov and made changes accordingly.

          • Oskar

            You should read up on the shoddy Chinese design and manufacturing.

  • Stephen

    I wonder which is more expensive, building a carrier or converting a reef? Each weaponized island becomes a stationary carrier or anti-air/anti-ship missile battery.

    • @USS_Fallujah

      A “stationary carrier” is an oxymoron. the converted reef has less air defense capability that a PLAN carrier group and can be targeted by any LACM within 1,000m without the need for any ISR.

      • Stephen

        The air-base on the Spratlys has similar capabilities compared to USAF at Clark in the Philippines. Air power projected 1500 miles from China. The facility provides a power pivot for any PLAN operations in the SCS. Since they borrowed our SPY-1 System, they have a fairly good view of their defensive dome. China installed missile launchers before the air field was finished & I’m sure they have Silkworms or some other skimming anti-ship missile. We haven’t tested Carrier air-defense since WWII.

        • @USS_Fallujah

          How many SAMs to you think they have? How effective will those air defenses be against LACMs flying just over the wave tops? Best case they have a radar horizon of about 25m, so they’d have less than 3m to detect & engage each inbound. Good luck with that.

          • Stephen

            PLAN has skilled engineers & shipbuilders & a very capable sea-going force. They may not have the numbers today. Project 5 years out & we may be facing an extremely proficient Bluewater Navy. Not to mention the unknown number of permanent constructed island bases. LACMs can travel in both directions. Send me a missile, I’ll send you 10… Sound familiar?

          • Oskar

            “…& a very capable sea-going force.”?

            That’s funny!

          • Stephen

            I know, it’s hard to take them seriously. Dismiss their abilities at your peril. Chinese maritime past goes back to Admiral Zheng He; impressive history.

          • Oskar

            LOL!

            Tell me all about the Chinese navy’s triumphs since 1930.

          • Stephen

            Did we learn nothing in Vietnam? We had the technology. We had the experience & we should have prevailed. Just like the French before us; we failed. China has gone from canvas & wood aircraft to 5G jets. They are methodically saturating the SCS with force projection. And soon, they will be able to give us the one answer we hate most; no. I hope your raucous laughter does not give you indigestion.

          • Oskar

            Did you miss Desert Storm?
            Yugoslavia?

            What EXACTLY is China’s combat experience?

            Want to chat about how Vietnam SPANKED the PLA in the 80’s?

            I hope the schooling I gave you doesn’t make you too cranky.

          • Stephen

            Having learned nothing, speaks volumes. Unable to discern your point; let me close with, may the Force be with you.

          • Oskar

            Learn English.

          • @USS_Fallujah

            But we were comparing airbases on converted reefs to an aircraft carrier. You can engage the prior with overwhelming force from anywhere in the battle space, you need to get a target track on the later – a much more difficult endeavor. Also, the magazine of the base’s air defense is limited and without AEW the base’s radar lack the range to engage inbound LACMs at effective range. A CBG with numerous networked escorts is in a much better position to defend against ASCM, if an enemy is able to achieve that target track.
            Those airbases are useful in projecting strike power out into the SCS, but in an actual shooting war their lifespan would be measured in hours.

          • tteng

            However, a 60 LACM salvo put a similar sized Syrian airfield out of commission for a day (and probably emptied two Burke worth of offensive missile loads). And that airfield came back.

          • @USS_Fallujah

            Well for one thing the airfield in Syria is probably 20 times the size, and it was “back” in that the runways were back in use, most the military facilities and aircraft were destroyed or damaged, plus the Syrian’s have access to repair and replacement capabilities unavailable on a postage stamp in the middle of the SCS.

          • tteng

            If you google ‘China artificial island, thomas shugart’..

            These islands are not that small, and potentially do a fair job as missiles/bombs sink.

        • Oskar

          You do realize Clark AFB closed in 1991, right?

          • Stephen

            A little volcano can ruin your day… Yeah, I’m aware.

  • incredulous1

    So now they have unlicensed copies of a jump carrier and a strike aircraft. Good thing they can only carry a couple of 500 lb bombs. Of course we are supposed to be worried and feel threatened now, but I will reserve such excitement for a time when their unlicensed engines last longer than 400 hours and they figure out how to lift more payload. PS. I wonder how Vladimir feels about all the Chinese copies and the lack of licensure. Note to Leroy, due to the sensitivity of the issue, Japan has not made public their plan to rapidly convert both the Izumo class and Hyuga class to F-35 ops. For the plan is to just embark MV-22s.
    I agree with you that it is not really a threat as the radius for a CAP is not even large off a jump carrier, but I wouldn’t go so far as to agree that Xi can be trusted and assume that there is a friendly relationship. Get back to you after we conduct real FoNops in SCS.

    • @USS_Fallujah

      PLAN CVs aren’t much of a threat to US forces, but that’s certainly not the case of the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, etc. This isn’t about defeating the US, but create enough doubt among regional rivals that the US would risk taking casualties, or that they could survive a conflict with the PLAN long enough for the US to intervene.

    • El_Sid

      You sound like a German in early WWII comparing PzIV’s to M2s, who then found themselves fighting 1 Tiger to 20 Shermans. A decent-but-not-great weapon can still beat a great weapon, if it’s backed up by overwhelming superiority in manufacturing.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Nuke or fossil fuel?

  • V H

    Two things come to mind: When will the PLAN conduct flight operations from their carrier after dark? In order to be a true big league naval power you have to be able to launch and recover aircraft during a 24 hour cycle. So far China has been rather shy about landing and launching aircraft after dark. It will be interesting to see if they now attempt flight operations after dark. Secondly, is the PLAN ready to accept the inevitable deck crashes and resulting loss of life associated with intensive carrier operations? China has attempted to remain hidden in home waters during work ups. But there will come a time when flight operations will have to be conducted away from home waters. Blue water ops where it is land on the boat or land in the water. Is China ready for that sort of pressure?

    • The Chinese intend initially to use it for launching antisubmarine warfare helicopters. I guess we’ll find out soon how stealthy US submarines are when pinged by active towed sonar arrays

      • muzzleloader

        There is no question about the stealth of American SSN’s lol

      • V H

        They have to find them first and the Chinese are very weak in ASW.