August 24, 2016 2:00 am JST
New Chinese aircraft carrier to hit water by end of year
TOKYO -- China's first domestically built aircraft carrier will likely be set afloat by the end of the year, according to multiple Chinese military sources.
The country already has an aircraft carrier named the Liaoning, but that vessel is a refurbished former Soviet carrier. Beijing purchased the ship, then known as the Varyag, from Ukraine more than a decade ago.
The new vessel is believed to share its basic design with the Liaoning. The two ships are rather compact for aircraft carriers, weighing around 50,000 tons. Both are powered by conventional engines. The new vessel, under construction at a shipyard in Dalian, Liaoning Province, will carry China's mainstay Shenyang J-15 fighter jets.
China's Ministry of National Defense acknowledged late last year that the country was building its second aircraft carrier, but has been silent about the project since. A photo obtained by The Nikkei shows that the vessel's angled bow, nicknamed a "ski jump" deck, had been mostly completed by early August. The basic construction of the flight deck has now been finished, according to the sources.
Since construction below the flight deck will continue after the ship is afloat, delivery to the navy is believed to still be a year or two away. The carrier likely won't be ready for action for a few more years after that, since pilots of carrier-borne aircraft need extensive training.
There are strong indications that the new carrier will be based at a military port on Hainan Island, which faces the South China Sea.
There has been a rumor that China is building a third aircraft carrier in Shanghai. It has been suggested that this vessel features a catapult. Because the device, seen on U.S. carriers, shortens the distance that aircraft need to take off, it frees up space on the flight deck, enabling the ship to carry more planes.
Some experts believe that the People's Liberation Army plans to have four to six aircraft carrier groups in the near future.
Without aircraft carriers, it would be difficult for China to protect its interests in the East China and South China seas, Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo told the state-run Xinhua News Agency last year.