China has quietly begun construction on its first domestic aircraft carrier in the same northern Chinese shipyard that refurbished the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s current Soviet-era carrier, USNI News has learned.
Several sources confirmed to USNI News that an unknown shipbuilding project — first noticed publically by Jane’s in late February — is almost without a doubt the bones of the PLAN’s first domestically-built carrier.
Sources pointed USNI News to an April photograph that emerged on the Chinese language Internet of a ship under construction at the Dalian yard believed to be the super structure of the PLAN’s second carrier.
Further late September satellite photographs published by Jane’s last week show a ship that corresponds to the dimensions of the refurbished Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier Liaoning — a ship with a beam of about 115 feet and a length of 886 feet.
Jane’s stopped short of a definitive determination that the mystery ship at Dalian was a new carrier — the Type 001A — but did compare the construction methodology of the ship to Soviet-era builds on the original Kuznetsov in the 1980s.
The interest to what is in the Dalian dry dock — once the home for Liaoning’s refit after China purchased the carrier — has been a hot topic of conversation for international naval watchers.
One, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Chris Carlson, told USNI News given how quickly the Dalian yard builds commercial ships the timing of construction pointed toward a military platform.
“We’re talking eight months from March when they say the initial sections began going up,” he said on Wednesday.
“If it was commercial ship it would be done already.”
Carlson said the Jane’s photographs indicate the ship is being built without a well deck which would likely rule out a big deck amphibious warship.
“The logical explanation is that it’s a carrier,” he said.
China’s intent to start it’s own domestic carrier program has been hinted at in official documents and scattered state-controlled press reports but the central government and the PLAN have been far from explicit in expressing a complete carrier vision.
If the construction of the first domestic carrier has commenced it confirms the rough outline naval analysts have constructed around the effort.
“For the past several years, analysts have believed that China plans for a force of around four full-sized aircraft carriers — including the active Liaoning,” Eric Wertheim author of U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets of the World told USNI News on Wednesday.
“If the hull now under construction does in fact turn out to be a new Chinese aircraft carrier being built at Dalian shipyard, it confirms the PLAN’s commitment to carrier based naval aviation and illustrates their growing desire for more power projection capabilities.” Asia Times