China launches its first domestically-made aircraft carrier

BEIJING - China has launched its first aircraft carrier built entirely on its own, in a demonstration of the growing technical sophistication of its defense industries and determination to safeguard its maritime territorial claims and crucial trade routes.

The 50,000-ton carrier was towed from its dockyard just after 9 a.m. Wednesday following a ceremony in the northern port city of Dalian, where its predecessor, the Soviet-built Liaoning, underwent extensive refurbishing before being commissioned in 2012, the Ministry of National Defense said.

Development of the new carrier began in 2013 and construction in late 2015. It’s expected to be formally commissioned sometime before 2020, after sea trials and the arrival of its full air complement.

The carrier program is a key part of China’s naval expansion at a time when it is looking to beef-up its regional military influence to match its economic might. While China says it maintains a defensive military policy, its ambitions are rattling some neighbors who see Beijing as fueling already enflamed tensions in the region.

Chinese naval strategists see the carrier program not only as a means to protect their country’s maritime interests, but also to have “naval power commensurate with China’s international status, to impress both external and domestic audiences,” said Michael Chase, an expert on the Chinese military at U.S. think tank the RAND Corporation.

The new carrier “is likely to be seen as further evidence of China’s desire to become the most powerful and influential country in the region,” he said. That will be especially worrying to Indian security analysts who are already concerned about Beijing’s ambitions in the Indian Ocean, he said.

India, along with Japan and Taiwan which also view Chinese carriers as threats, will likely respond by building new submarines and anti-ship missiles, said Ian Easton, a research Fellow at The Project 2049 Institute in Arlington, Virginia.

China’s “expansionist behavior in the South China Sea and its aggressive efforts to undermine the security of Taiwan and Japan, in particular, have translated into a situation where few countries now trust that Beijing has benign motives,” Easton said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated China’s contention that it maintains a purely defense military posture and “sticks to the path of peaceful development.

“The purpose to develop national defense forces including the navy is to safeguard our national sovereignty, security and development interests, as well as the peace of the world,” Geng told reporters Wednesday at a daily news conference.

China has offered little information about the roles it expects its carriers to play, although its planning appears to be evolving as it gains more experience. The Liaoning was initially touted mainly as an experimental and training platform, but in December was declared to be combat-ready and has taken part in live-firing exercises in the South China Sea, where tensions have risen over China’s construction of man-made islands complete with airstrips and military structures.

Earlier this year the Liaoning sailed through the Taiwan Strait, which was seen as a message to Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory to be brought under control by force if necessary.

Wednesday’s launch was presided over by the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission and Communist Party Central Committee, Fan Changlong, and came just three days after the anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s symbolic founding in 1949. Also attending was navy commander Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong, a former commander of the South Sea Fleet responsible for defending China’s claim to virtually the entire South China Sea.

Reports of the launch said a bottle of champagne was broken across the ship’s bow and other craft in the port sounded their horns in celebration.

Like the 60,000-ton Liaoning, which was purchased from the Ukraine, the new carrier is based on the Soviet Kuznetsov class design, with a ski jump-style deck for taking off and a conventional oil-fueled steam turbine power plant. That limits the weight of the payloads its planes can carry, its speed and the amount of time it can spend at sea relative to American nuclear-powered carriers.

The main hull of the new carrier has been completed and its power supply put into place. Next up are mooring tests and the debugging of its electronic systems, the Defense Ministry said.

China is believed to be planning to build at least two and possibly as many as four additional carriers, with one of them, the Type 002, reported to be already under construction at a shipyard outside Shanghai. They are expected to be closer in size to the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered 100,000-ton Nimitz class ships, with flat flight decks and catapults to allow planes to launch with more bombs and fuel aboard.

According to Chinese reports, the new, as yet unnamed, carrier will carry 24 Shenyang J-15 fighters, based on the Russian Sukhoi Su-33, along with 12 helicopters for anti-submarine warfare, airborne early warning and rescue operations. That compares to 85-90 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters carried by a Nimitz-class carrier.

As China expands its navy, it is projected to have a total of 265-273 warships, submarines and logistics vessels by 2020, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Naval Analysis. That compares with 275 deployable battle force ships presently in the U.S. Navy, China’s primary rival in the Asia Pacific.

The U.S. operates 10 aircraft carriers, has 62 destroyers to China’s 32, and 75 submarines to China’s 68. The U.S. Navy has 323,000 personnel to China’s 235,000.

Why China’s new aircraft carrier is significant

China on Wednesday launched the navy’s second aircraft carrier, its first to be entirely homebuilt.

While the 50,000-ton ship still needs considerable work before commissioning, analysts say its launch telegraphs China’s ambitions to become the region’s most powerful and influential country. That’s an alarming prospect to others.

Here’s a look at how the new carrier came into being and what impact it is expected to have:

CARRIER SHOWS CHINA’S MILITARY PROGRESS
China’s carrier program got off the ground with the purchase of the Varyag, an incomplete carrier begun during the 1980s and then inherited by Ukraine after the breakup of the former Soviet Union. Beijing bought the ship in 1998 and towed it to China, where it underwent years of extensive refurbishing before being commissioned as the Liaoning in 2012. It was originally described as being mainly for training and research but last year was declared combat-ready. Development of the new carrier began in 2013 and moved into high-gear in 2015. Based on the same original Soviet design, its construction is believed to have benefited greatly from lessons learned in fitting-out the Liaoning. Both ships suffer some of the limitations inherent in the design, including a ski jump-style launching system that limits the amount of fuel and bombs its Chinese J-15 fighters can carry. Michael Chase of the U.S. think tank RAND Corporation said the carriers reflect the progress China’s has made in shipbuilding and other defense industries, and future carriers will be even more sophisticated, particularly in their propulsion and aircraft launch systems.

CARRIER AT HEART OF CHINA’S MILITARY AMBITIONS
China had long said it needs aircraft carriers to protect its shoreline and other maritime interests. That’s seen as reflecting Beijing’s desire to put teeth behind its increasingly assertive claims to territory in the East China and South China seas, while establishing itself as the region’s most powerful and influential nation and challenging America’s global influence and leadership. Carriers also factor into China’s threat to use force to gain control over self-governing Taiwan, from which it separated amid civil war in 1949. Carriers could be deployed to intimidate the island’s government and 23 million residents, something it apparently attempted earlier this year when it sailed the Liaoning through the Taiwan Strait. Fueled by a fast-growing defense budget that is now the world’s second biggest after the U.S., China’s navy has also been acquiring destroyers, nuclear submarines and other ultramodern vessels. Its air force is meanwhile rapidly introducing fourth-generation fighter jets and has produced prototypes of two different kinds of fifth-generation stealth fighters.

CARRIER RAISES CONCERNS AMONG NEIGHBORS
Apart from Taiwan, Chinese carriers are seen as a threat primarily by China’s historical rivals Japan and India. Beijing and Tokyo have long feuded over a collection of tiny uninhabited islands in the East China Sea and China in recent years increased the presence of its navy and coast guard in the area while repeatedly sending military planes to patrol the nearby airspace. Many Chinese consider the dispute to be a legacy of Japan’s brutal invasion and occupation of much of their country during the 1930s and 1940s, memories of which are kept fresh by state propaganda and the education system. India has looked on nervously as the Chinese navy expands its presence in its traditional sphere of influence, the Indian Ocean. That includes the development of ports and airports with potential military uses in Pakistan and elsewhere, along with China’s first overseas military base in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti. Chinese carriers are seen as less threatening to the region’s leading military power, the U.S., although American officials have called for more transparency from Beijing about how it intends to use the ships. Rather than a military threat, the carriers are more of an indirect challenge to U.S. influence in the region.

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a newly-built aircraft carrier is transferred from dry dock into the water at a launch ceremony at a shipyard in Dalian in northeastern China's Liaoning Province, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. China launched its first aircraft carrier built entirely on its own on Wednesday, in a demonstration of the growing technical sophistication of its defense industries and determination to safeguard its maritime territorial claims and crucial trade routes. (Photo: Li Gang, Xinhua via AP)



China launches aircraft carrier, boosting military presence

China has launched a new aircraft carrier in the latest sign of its growing military strength.

It is the country's second aircraft carrier, after the Liaoning, and the first to be made domestically.

The as-yet unnamed ship was transferred into the water in the north-eastern port of Dalian, state media said. It will reportedly be operational by 2020.

It comes amid heated rhetoric between the US and North Korea and ongoing tensions in the South China Sea.

China has had only one operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which it bought from Ukraine and refitted.

The US has deployed warships and a submarine to the Korean peninsula, prompting an angry reaction from North Korea. China has urged calm.

A big step for Beijing, by the BBC's China Correspondent Stephen McDonell
The sight of a bottle of champagne hitting the bow of a new Chinese-built aircraft carrier will worry many.
Western military intelligence will be poring over the television footage. For them it's not emotional: cold calculations are being made.

They see a not quite finished vessel, a few years from full service, partly based on Soviet-era design.
It's technologically inferior to the ten aircraft carriers being used by the United States Navy - but there's no doubt that it's a big step for China.

China's aircraft carrier programme is a state secret, but it's hard to imagine this country being satisfied with two of them.

The US says all options are on the table to remove North Korea's nuclear weapons - and it is using the USS Carl Vinson battle group to press the point.

That's the kind of power that China wants - and that's why we haven't seen the last Chinese aircraft carrier rolling off the production line in the Dalian shipyard.

The new carrier is touted as a significant upgrade from the Liaoning, which was built more than 25 years ago and is a refurbished ship from the days of the Soviet Union.

It has been seen by some analysts as a kind of training vessel in preparation for the new carrier, our correspondent says.

But China has been modernising its armed forces recently as its economy expands.

In March, it announced it would increase its military budget by about 7% this year - the second year in a row that increases have been less than 10%, after nearly 20 years of larger increases.

China's defence budget remains smaller than that of the US, however.

While China's military spending will be about 1.3% of the country's projected GDP in 2017, the US spends roughly 3% of its economic output on the military - and the US economy is larger, so the dollar value difference is enormous.

US President Donald Trump has also proposed a 10% increase in the military budget.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua said work had started on China's latest aircraft carrier in 2013.

The launch was attended by the vice-president of China's central military commission, Fan Changlong.

Officials smashed a bottle of champagne on the ship's hull as "magnificent patriotic songs" played on loudspeakers and nearby ships sounded their horns in celebration, reported Xinhua.

The defence ministry said previously that it would carry China's J-15 aircraft along with other planes, and that it would use conventional rather than nuclear propulsion.


China launches its first home-built aircraft carrier

China has launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier, which will join an existing one bought secondhand from Ukraine, amid rising tensions over North Korea and worries about Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea.

The 50,000-ton carrier was towed from its dockyard just after 9 am on Wednesday after a ceremony in the northern port city of Dalian, where its predecessor, the Soviet-built Liaoning, also underwent extensive refurbishing before being commissioned in 2012, the Ministry of National Defence said.

Development of the new carrier began in 2013 and construction in late 2015. It is expected to be formally commissioned before 2020, after sea trials and the arrival of its full air complement.

Like the 60,000-ton Liaoning, the new carrier is based on the Soviet Kuznetsov class design, with a ski jump-style deck for taking off and a conventional oil-fuelled steam turbine power plant. That limits the weight of payloads its planes can carry, its speed and the amount of time it can spend at sea relative to American nuclear-powered carriers.

The main hull of the new carrier has been completed and its power supply put into place. Next up are mooring tests and the debugging of its electronic systems, the ministry said.

China is believed to be planning to build at least two and possibly up to four additional carriers, with one of them, the Type 002, reported to be under construction at a shipyard outside Shanghai. They are expected to be closer in size to the US navy’s nuclear-powered 100,000-ton Nimitz-class ships, with flat flight decks and catapults to allow planes to launch with more bombs and fuel aboard.

Along with their role in protecting China’s maritime interests, Chinese naval strategists see the carrier programme as being “about having naval power commensurate with China’s international status, to impress both external and domestic audiences,” said Michael Chase, an expert on the Chinese military at US thinktank the Rand Corporation.

“[The new carrier] is likely to be seen as further evidence of China’s desire to become the most powerful and influential country in the region,” Chase said. That would be especially worrying to Indian security analysts who were already concerned about Beijing’s ambitions in the Indian Ocean, he said.

India, along with Japan and Taiwan, which also viewed Chinese carriers as threats, would probably respond by building additional submarines and anti-ship missiles, said Ian Easton, a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute in Arlington, Virginia.

“[China’s] expansionist behaviour in the South China Sea and its aggressive efforts to undermine the security of Taiwan and Japan, in particular, have translated into a situation where few countries now trust that Beijing has benign motives,” he said.

China claims Taiwan as its territory to be brought under control by force if necessary, and was seen as displaying that threat when it sailed the Liaoning through the Taiwan Strait earlier this year.

The new carrier is part of an ambitious expansion of the Chinese navy, which is projected to have between 265 and 273 warships, submarines and logistics vessels by 2020, according to the Washington DC-based Center for Naval Analyses. That compares with 275 deployable battle force ships presently in the US navy, China’s primary rival in the Asia Pacific.

The US operates 10 aircraft carriers, has 62 destroyers to China’s 32, and 75 submarines to China’s 68. The US navy has 323,000 personnel to China’s 235,000.
China has offered little information about the roles it expects its carriers to play, although its planning appears to be evolving as it gains more experience.

The Liaoning was initially touted mainly as an experimental and training platform, but in December was declared to be combat-ready and has taken part in live-firing exercises in the South China Sea, where tensions have risen over China’s construction of manmade islands complete with airstrips and military structures.

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