Chinese military celebrates 10 years of its debut aircraft carrier
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) celebrated the 10th anniversary of its first aircraft carrier on Sunday, with mooring trials beginning on the third carrier, state media reported.
The two events were hailed as “significant progress” by China in building its aircraft carrier fleet in the past decade.
China’s state television CCTV said the PLA’s third aircraft carrier Fujian, which was launched in June 17, has begun mooring trials “as planned.”
During mooring trials, all equipment and machinery systems on the carrier including propulsion are tested.
The 80,000-ton Fujian, also called Type 003, is the PLA’s first carrier equipped with electromagnetic catapults and arresting devices similar to the ones on U.S. aircraft carriers.
The so-called CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery) will help launch a bigger variety of aircraft from the carrier faster and with more ammunition.
The PLA’s first aircraft carriers – the Liaoning and Shandong – use a less advanced ski jump-style launch system.
After mooring trials, conducted while the ship is at port, the Fujian will be going on sea trials next year. CCTV said the carrier’s outfitting is underway.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, which is watching China’s military developments closely, said in a report published earlier this year that the Fujian would enable the PLA Navy to project power past the “first island chain.”
The first island chain, conceptualized during the Cold War, commonly refers to the major archipelagos that lie off the East Asian mainland coast. The chain stretches from the Kamchatka Peninsula in the northeast to the Malay Peninsula in the southwest, and includes the territory of U.S. allies Taiwan and the Philippines.
CCTV meanwhile marked the tenth anniversary of Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, with a special report showing it in a fully operational mode.
The Liaoning, commissioned in 2012, was shown “fully loaded” with 24 J-15 “Flying Shark” fighter jets, two Z-8 helicopters and a Z-9 helicopter on its flight deck.
Chinese observers say this is the largest number of fighters seen on board an aircraft carrier and it demonstrates the growing capabilities of the carrier as the Chinese military has now gained much more experience in operating carrier-based aircraft.
The Liaoning regularly patrols the Taiwan Strait and may be deployed in the event of armed conflict with the self-governing island. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province that shall be united with the mainland.
In May the Japanese and Taiwanese militaries were put on high alert after the Chinese carrier and its strike group sailed past the first island chain to enter the Pacific Ocean.
In the next 10 years, the PLA may expand its aircraft carrier fleet to five ships, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), an independent U.S. think tank specializing in defense policy, planning and budgets.
The report said that China may have enough resources to expand its naval force to 419 ships and submarines in the next ten years, including five aircraft carriers and 28 nuclear-powered submarines.
The PLA already has the largest navy in the world by number with approximately 355 ships and submarines, according to the Pentagon.
The U.S. Navy has 11 aircraft carriers, most of them of the large “supercarrier” category, which are much more advanced and powerful.