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Construction work underway on China’s first home-built aircraft carrier in Dalian. Photo: Handout

10 things you should know about China’s first home-built aircraft carrier

China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, is near the final stages of construction. Military sources have suggested that the ship may be launched as early as April 23, the anniversary of the foundation of the PLA Navy. Here are 10 key questions answered about the vessel.

How big is it?

The Type 001A weighs about 70,000 tonnes, is 315 metres long, 75 metres wide and has a cruising speed of 31 knots.

What’s the significance of a ceremonial ship launching for the carrier?

The ceremony will transfer the carrier’s hull from dry dock into the water. It is a naval tradition dating back thousands of years as a ship first enters the sea and marks the first step in the vessel’s formal entrance into the fleet.

Will any dignitaries attend the ceremony?

Media reports and sources close to the navy have said President Xi Jinping, who also chairs the powerful Central Military Commission, may attend the event.

How do we know the Type 001A is near launching?

China’s defence ministry confirmed last month that the carrier had entered its final stage of construction.

The giant ship, which is now at the Dalian Shipyard, has also been painted in PLA navy grey, meaning it is almost ready for launch, based on previous experience with other vessels.

Why hold the launch ceremony on the anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy?

The launch also comes amid a huge expansion in China’s navy. The military is undergoing a massive overhaul to make it a more nimble and efficient fighting force and the navy will play an increasingly important role. The size of the marine corps, for example, will be increased from about 20,000 to 100,000, military sources have told the South China Morning Post.

Why is the Type 001A important to the navy?

China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was bought from Ukraine in 1998. This will be the nation’s first domestically-built carrier. China will become the seventh country with the capability to build its own carriers aircraft after the US, Russia, Britain, France, Italy and Spain.

Will the Type 001A be given a name like its sister ship, the Liaoning?

Yes, the Type 001A will given a name on its launch day. Chinese media have speculated that it may be called “the Shandong” because it will be docked at the Qingdao carrier base in Shandong province.

The Liaoning was named after the carrier was refurbished in Dalian in Liaoning province.

What are the key differences between the Liaoning and the Type 001A?

The Type 001A looks similar to the Liaoning, but military experts said its layout, equipment and overall operational concept were advanced, including a bigger hangar to carry more J-15 fighter jets and more space on deck for helicopters and other aircraft.

Why is its home port Qingdao?

It’s a geographic consideration as all new ships may need further work and maintenance. Qingdao carrier base is close to the shipyard of the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company, which refurbished the Liaoning and built the Type 001A.

When will the Type 001A be put in full service?

It will take a couple of years for the newest carrier to enter full service after its launch, including two to three years to train carrier-based pilots and training with other ships to form a carrier group. Military experts have suggested the carrier will fully join the PLA Navy in about 2020.