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.
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.