China's aircraft carriers

As China’s Type 001A carrier sets out on fourth sea trial, analysts say call to service must be near

  • Aircraft drills suggest period of snagging on board the carrier is at an end
  • Maritime administration says part of Yellow Sea is closed for exercises
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 December, 2018, 9:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 December, 2018, 10:25pm

China’s first home built aircraft carrier set out on its fourth sea trial on Thursday, Chinese media reported.

The test began after more than six weeks of maintenance on the Type 001A – a 315 metre (1,033 feet) long, 50,000-tonne vessel – at its home port of Dalian in Liaoning province.

The latest trial, which may involve take-off and landing drills for some of its 32 J-15 fighter jets, would mean technical snagging was complete and the carrier will soon go into service, analysts said.

Recent online photos showed three blast deflectors and three aircraft on the flight deck. The deflector is a device that redirects the exhaust from a jet engine, especially on take-off, to prevent heat damage to the deck and injury to deck crew.

Liaoning Maritime Safety Administration said on Tuesday that an area off the east coast of Dalian in the northern Yellow Sea would be closed to marine ­traffic between Wednesday and Sunday for military exercises.

The Type 001A embarked upon its five-day maiden voyage in May. Its second sea trial began on August 27 and the third got under way on October 30.

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The lag between the third and fourth trial is the shortest, which suggests that the Type 001A is making headway toward its official delivery to the PLA Navy.

Hong Kong-based military expert Song Zhongping said aircraft drills means all other technical issues have been solved.

“The previous three sea trials mainly solved problems like communications and power, which builds a foundation for the exercises involving warplanes,” he said.

“If the warplanes can smoothly take off and land, then it means the indigenous aircraft carrier will soon enter service.”

Beijing based military observer Zhou Chenming echoed that view, and said sea trials should improve the carrier’s air operations.

The defence ministry has not yet confirmed when the Type 001A will enter service, but spokesman Ren Guoqiang said in late November that it was “making steady progress according to the plan, and the sea trials were safe and smooth and achieved the desired objectives”.

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Based on the Liaoning, the Soviet Admiral Kuznetsov class vessel that became the PLA’s first commissioned aircraft carrier, the Type 001A features some significant modifications, including upgraded radar and bridge systems. The Type 001A, which will displace 70,000 tonnes when fully laden, will carry 32 J-15s compared to the Liaoning’s 26.

The ship is steam turbine powered, has a ski-jump deck for take-offs, and can accommodate up to 40 aircraft.