China's aircraft carriers
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Type 001A, China's second aircraft carrier, is seen during a launch ceremony at Dalian shipyard in Dalian, northeast China's Liaoning Province, on April 26. Photo: AFP

China’s first home-grown aircraft carrier could join the navy ahead of schedule

Early service for the Type 001A points to China speeding up its effort to build a navy that can secure trade routes and challenge the US in the South China Sea

China’s first home-grown aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, is likely to join the navy of the People’s Liberation Army by late next year, earlier than scheduled, analysts said.

The earlier-than-expected start to the carrier’s service marks a key acceleration of China’s effort to build up a blue-water navy to secure the country’s key maritime trade routes and to challenge the US’s dominant position in the Asia-Pacific region, especially in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

China has one aircraft carrier in operation now - the Liaoning, which went into commission in 2012.

The latest picture of the 001A aircraft carrier shows a runway was printed on its deck. Photo: Handout

The 300-metre ship was refurbished from the unfinished Soviet carrier Varyag, which China bought from Ukraine in 1998. China’s first home-grown carrier, launched on April 26, and naval experts previously expected the ship would join the Chinese navy only by 2020.

However, two military sources told the South China Morning Post the navy had expected the Type 001A would be delivered to them as early as the end of 2018, or by 2019.

Hu Wenming, general manager of the Type 001A project, told China’s state television that the carrier’s propulsion system, namely the engine part, underwent tests, and the results were all good.

“Steam turbines of [the carrier] will all start to formally enter the mooring test phase, which will be ahead of our schedule in overall progress,” Hu said on state television on Thursday. The testing is a key and necessary step before the carrier is put into service.


Early pictures posted on the internet by military enthusiasts showed runway track lines were printed on the deck of the Type 001, while scaffolding outside the control tower was dismantled. These images hinted that equipment installation work on the carrier was almost completed - another sign that the carrier is close to being ready for service.

An earlier photo of the home-grown aircraft carrier shows construction is almost completed. Photo: Weibo

“Before we deliver the ship [to the navy], we also need to do a variety of systematic tests [at] sea, including matching tests of carrier-based aircraft, weapon systems and others,” Hu said.

Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said the sea tests will cover electronic equipment, self-navigation, the radar system and the resilience of the propulsion system, as well as power network operation between different electronic and weapon system.

“The navy will also do a string of sea trials once it takes over the ship, which will also take several months,” Li said. “Normally, a carrier needs at least two years of different tests after its launch.”

Unlike its sister ship, the Liaoning, which was refitted based on the hull of a Russian carrier and uses the original Russian-designed propulsion system, the Type 001A is powered by eight home-made steam turbines with a displacement of up to 70,000 tonnes.

Aircraft carrier Liaoning and the frigate Qinzhou depart from Hong Kong waters after a visit last month as part of the Hong Kong handover 20th anniversary celebration. Photo: Roy Issa

The Type 001A was produced by state-owned Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Offshore Company in Liaoning province, which also spent more than eight years to refurnish the Liaoning.


Based on the research and development experiences of the Liaoning, Hu said the design of the Type 001A will be more advanced than that of its sister ship. At the most intense period of ship building, Hu said more than 5,000 people from across the country were hired for the project. In addition, 532 state-owned or private scientific research units and their academics took part in producing ancillary facilities. More than 40 companies came from non-military sectors, reflecting Beijing’s push to integrate military and civilian development.

Li, the naval expert, said the 001A’s design would include technological breakthroughs in its missile and radar systems and hangar deck, reflecting the results of a decade of experience in rebuilding Liaoning.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Second carrier ‘to enter service early’