The Liaoning aircraft carrier of China. A file photo
BEIJING (PTI): China is building a third aircraft carrier based on American models as it seeks to fortify its claims in the disputed South China Sea and dominate the larger Indian Ocean region to realise its blue water aspirations.
Chinese experts said China is on course to build 5-6 aircraft carriers.
While the first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, is a refitted Soviet-era ship, the second is being built on the same model with more advanced facilities and is likely to enter service in 2020.
The latest carrier, under construction at Shanghai, is based on US models, state-run Global Times reported on Tuesday.
Based on information released by Chinese defence ministry, the second Type 001A carrier being built at the northeast Dalian port uses the ski-jump technology for aircraft to take off, like the first carrier Liaoning rather than a more advanced catapult technology used by American carriers.
The second aircraft carrier is expected to have a displacement of 50,000 tonnes.
China is looking into catapult technology for the third Type 002 carrier being built in Shanghai, the daily quoted Li Jie, a naval military expert, as saying.
"In other words, 002 is entirely different from Liaoning (001) and 001A, and it will look like a US aircraft carrier rather than a Russian one," Li added.
Official Chinese media have earlier reported about the possibility of a third carrier but it is the first time they have announced that it was being built.
Most advanced carriers use the Electromagnetic Catapult System, or Electromagnetic launcher (EML), to launch fighter jets, but China is also testing steam catapults, Li said.
"In order to protect China's territories and overseas interests, China needs two carrier strike groups in the West Pacific Ocean and two in the Indian Ocean. So we need at least five to six aircraft carriers," Yin Zhuo, a senior researcher at the PLA Navy Equipment Research Centre, said.
Chinese media has often highlighted the construction of aircraft carriers as the US deployed aircraft carriers in the disputed South China Sea challenging Beijing's claims.
The US Navy on Sunday announced that an aircraft carrier strike group has begun "routine operations" in the South China Sea. The announcement came despite a warning from China not to interfere with Chinese sovereignty in the region.
China has a long history of maritime disputes with its South China Sea neighbours. It claims almost all of the South China Sea, despite objections from the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
China has also created artificial islands in the area, outfitting some of them with military features.
Meanwhile, the Liaoning carried extensive exercises in the South China Sea and Taiwan straits. China is ramping up plans to produce J-15 fighter jets to be deployed on the carriers. Some of them are seen exercising on the Liaoning.
China Central Television has reported that the second carrier's scaffold has been removed and a red undercoat has been painted below its waterline. A launch ceremony will soon be held.
"Unlike the Liaoning, the 001A is China-built, and its design, combat capability and technologies will be much more advanced," said Song Zhongping, a military expert.
"One key difference is the design will be more 'humanised,' which means all personnel on the carrier will enjoy a more comfortable and modern environment," Song said.
However, "there's still a long way to go from its launch to enlistment, which normally takes two years," Yin said.
"Its status can be compared to a house whose paint job has been completed but requires decorating, which, in military terms, is called the 'outfitting stage'," Song said.
It means all weapons and equipment, including the radar, air-defence and communications system will be outfitted on the carrier. After this, the carrier and aircraft on it will be tested and then the carrier will be ready to serve, Song said.
A large amount of work remains to be done on the carrier's outfitting stage after it's launched, presumably sometime this year, Li said.
"It will take about one to two years to carry out functional debugging of its devices, weapons and equipment.
The new aircraft carrier can begin sea trials by early 2019," he said.