Reuters : Construction of China’s first full-sized aircraft carrier is well under way, according to satellite images obtained and analysed by a U.S. think tank.
The images from April, provided to Reuters by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, reveal considerable recent activity during the last six months on a large vessel at the Jiangnan shipyard outside Shanghai.
China has not formally confirmed it is building a third carrier, despite recent hints in state media, and the timing and extent of its carrier programme remain state secrets.
The Pentagon said last week that work had begun, but no images have emerged until now.
Both Asian and Western militaries, and regional security analysts, are seeking information on the carrier, which is expected to be China’s first large, modern platform capable of leading a full range of strike group operations.
The effort to build a large, locally designed carrier is seen as a core part of China’s extensive military modernisation drive. A series of recent Reuters Special Reports showed how that effort is challenging decades of U.S. strategic superiority in East Asia.
Once completed, it will outclass any warship from any Asian country, including India and Japan,” said Storey, of the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute. “It is yet another indication that China has emerged as Asia’s paramount naval power.”
China’s first two carriers are relatively small, with only up to 25 aircraft, less than half the number aboard U.S. carriers, and have jump ramps built into their bows. That configuration limits not just the types of aircraft that can fly off them, but how much weaponry and fuel they can carry.
Its first carrier, the Liaoning, was a Soviet-era Ukrainian ship bought secondhand in 1998 and re-fitted in China. A still-unnamed second carrier based on that design, launched in 2017, was built locally.
The Liaoning had been seen as more of a training platform for teaching personnel the tricky art of carrier operations. But last month, Chinese state media said the ship “is starting to play a combat role following recent modifications and intensive training exercises.”
The second carrier has been undergoing sea trials from its base in northern Dalian and is not expected to enter service until 2020.
China’s state media have quoted experts as saying China needs at least six carriers. The United States operates 11 carriers.
China’s Ministry of Defence did not respond to a request for comment.