Battlespace Tech

Is China building its first homegrown carrier?

Chinese carrier Liaoning

A new carrier would complement the Liaoning, which China acquired from Ukraine.


Recent commercial satellite imagery suggests what could be China's first indigenous aircraft carrier under construction at the same dry dock where another carrier acquired from Ukraine underwent retrofitting, according to a report by the website IHS Jane's 360.

IHS Jane's reported that satellite imagery taken on Sept. 22 by Airbus Defence and Space may show a new carrier under construction at the Dalian shipyard in northern China. The construction location is near the dry dock where the Chinese military refitted the Liaoning, a Soviet-era carrier with a distinctive "ski-jump" deck that was acquired from Ukraine.

The new hull was first spotted in satellite imagery in March, according to the report. It judged the hull to be in "an advanced state of assembly" but acknowledged, "Given the incomplete nature of the upper decks, definitive identification of the Dalian hull as the first so-called '001A' aircraft carrier is not possible."

The March satellite imagery reportedly revealed the early stages of construction, including equipment for keel assembly of a hull measuring as long as 170 meters (557 feet) long.

According to the Defense Department's most recent report to Congress on Chinese military power, China "continues to pursue an indigenous aircraft carrier program and could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years."

Meanwhile, the Liaoning lacks the "long-range power projection similar to U.S. Nimitz-class carriers," the DOD survey noted. "The Liaoning's smaller size limits the number of aircraft it can embark, while the ski-jump configuration restricts fuel and ordnance load."

DOD analysts said the first Chinese carrier is "best suited to fleet air defense missions, extending air cover over a fleet operating far from land-based coverage."

China's naval expansion also includes another sort of “aircraft carrier:” artificial islands being constructed in the South China Sea that also would allow it to project regional naval power. China’s hegemony in the region has prompted DOD to establish a space-focused center—run by Air Force and Rand Corp.—to keep an closer eye on its activities.

The U.S. Navy currently operates 10 carrier groups.

About the Author

George Leopold is a contributing editor for Defense Systems and author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom."Connect with him on Twitter at @gleopold1.

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