The Chinese government has revealed for the first time it has started construction on a new domestically-made aircraft carrier, the third overall in the People’s Liberation Army Navy fleet.
In an article celebrating the sixth anniversary of China’s first carrier, the Liaoning, state-run news agency Xinhua teased the future of the country’s fleet.
“Six years have passed, our domestic carrier has been trialed, entry into service is just around the corner. The new aircraft carrier has also been built on the slipway,” the article said.
China’s second aircraft carrier, the unnamed Type 001A, was the country’s first domestically made vessel of its type and has been running through sea trials over the course of 2018.
But rumors had been circulating in the past year that another, more advanced vessel, was already under construction in China.
In June, one of China’s top ship design firms, the No.701 Research Institute of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, triggered speculation when it released a mock-up photo of an unidentified aircraft carrier.
Chinese state media had speculated the new vessel would have an electromagnetic catapult aircraft launch system, similar to technology used on the US Navy’s newest and most-advanced aircraft carrier.
Both the Liaoning and the Type 001A use the older, less advanced launching system known as the ski-jump, which relies on a plane’s own power to lift off.
Speaking to the Chinese state-run tabloid the Global Times, military experts said the new carrier was likely to take more than two years to complete due to its relative complexity and larger size.
Previous state media articles have speculated the new aircraft carrier is being constructed in Shanghai.
Zhu Yingfu, the chief designer of the Liaoning, said in a speech in April although the US had 11 aircraft carriers, it was likely China would need far less.
“The United States says it needs 10 carriers. We may not need that many, but there should be at least three. If conditions permit, there should be four or five,” he said.
The announcement again highlights the rapid modernization of the Chinese military in the recent decades. Beijing has made no secret of its desire to build a modern, “blue water” navy capable of expanding the country’s reach globally and competing with the United States.
In 2018 the Chinese military budget rose by 8% on the year before, to a total of $175 billion. Between 2010 and 2017, the Chinese Navy increased its complement of ships from 210 to 320, Boston College professor of political science Robert Ross told CNN in May.
“The US Navy and the capability for the US Navy will still be superior to the Chinese Navy in 10 years, but the size of the Chinese fleet will be larger and they’ll have closed the gap in technology and training,” Ross said at the time.