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China's aircraft carriers

After a fourth sea trial, China’s Type 001A aircraft carrier may go into service within months

  • Vessel returned to home port of Dalian on Tuesday after spending 13 days undergoing tests in the Yellow Sea
  • Naval expert says it may be ready in time for fleet review on April 23
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 2:04am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 3:17am

China’s second aircraft carrier has returned to its home port of Dalian after finishing a fourth sea trial, and a naval expert says it is likely to be commissioned in the next few months.

It is the first aircraft carrier designed and built in China, and it returned to the shipyard on Tuesday after spending 13 days off the northeast coast in the Yellow Sea – the longest trial so far, according to Chinese media reports.

The Type 001A, which has yet to be named, was believed to have carried out a range of complex tests during the latest trial, and Beijing-based military expert Li Jie said the testing was nearly finished.

“The vessel has probably completed 80 to 90 per cent of the necessary tests,” Li said. “I think it’s possible it can be delivered by the Chinese Navy Day on April 23.”

He said the warship might be able to take part in the PLA Navy’s fleet review to be held that day off Qingdao, in Shandong province.

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Photos circulated online of the aircraft carrier returning to Dalian, in Liaoning province, showed what appeared to be a J-15 multirole fighter jet as well as a helicopter on its deck.

When it left the port on December 27, photos of the 50,000-tonne vessel showed it was carrying three aircraft and three blast deflectors, which protect the deck and crew from jet engine exhaust.

Li said the jets were likely to have carried out flyover tests and touchdowns on the deck, but probably not the full range of aircraft operations because that would only be possible when every system on the warship was ready.

Launched in April 2017, the vessel made its maiden voyage over five days in May last year. That was followed by a 10-day trial in August-September and another 10 days at sea in October-November.

If the warship does enter service in April, it will have made faster progress than China’s first and only operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which was handed over 13½ months after its maiden voyage.

“The engineers have gained experience after working on the Liaoning – such as what are the key issues or weaknesses the tests should focus on, and which areas are less likely to be problems,” Li said. “So that means the testing on this vessel will move faster than for the Liaoning, it will take less time.”

The Type 001A is based on the Liaoning – a Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier that China bought from Ukraine in 1998 when it was half-built. China began refitting the warship in 2005 at the same shipyard in Dalian and it went through 10 sea trials – including one lasting 25 days and another carried out during a typhoon – before it was commissioned in 2012.

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Modifications for the Type 001A include a bigger aircraft hangar and a new design for the control tower and bridge, as well as upgraded radar and electronic systems.

It will have a full displacement of 70,000 tonnes and will be able to carry 32 J-15 fighter jets – more than the Liaoning’s 26. The 315-metre-long (1,033 feet) ship is steam-turbine powered and has a ski-jump deck for take-offs.