China's aircraft carriers
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Recent satellite imagery shows construction work on the aircraft carrier has almost been completed. Photo: Google Earth

China’s third aircraft carrier ‘to be launched on Dragon Boat Festival’

  • Preparations appear to be under way at Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai, where the warship is under construction
  • Military insider says it will take place on Friday and that the vessel ‘needs to go into sea trials as soon as possible’
A shipyard in Shanghai appears to be preparing to launch China’s third aircraft carrier, the Type 003, and according to a military source it will take place this Friday – coinciding with the Dragon Boat Festival.

The Maritime Safety Administration last Friday issued a notice calling for berths to be cleared for an operation at the No 3 and No 4 docks at the Jiangnan shipyard on Changxing Island, where the warship is under construction.

It said the operation would be under way from 5.30am to 4pm on Monday and would involve five platforms, three tugboats and two salvage ships.

Naval experts said the arrangements suggested that the Jiangnan shipyard was preparing to launch the new aircraft carrier.

“The latest satellite imagery shows the Type 003 had been blocked by a huge ship segment – this was done so that passing commercial ships couldn’t see the construction progress,” said Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at the Taiwanese Naval Academy.

“That segment will have to be moved so that they can launch the Type 003 by sliding it into the water.”

He added that the launch would mean the construction work in the dry dock had been completed and it would next go through tests and equipment installation based on sea trials.

A military insider familiar with China’s aircraft carrier projects said the launch would take place on the Dragon Boat Festival – confirming speculation on social media.

“The aircraft carrier needs to go into sea trials as soon as possible – it may take several years to achieve initial operational capability,” said the insider, referring to the basic requirements for a warship to be deployed.

There were expectations the aircraft carrier would be launched on April 23 to mark the 73rd anniversary of PLA Navy, but the plan was delayed because of Covid-19 pandemic in Shanghai.

Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said this Friday would be a “good day for the birth of the ‘third child’”, using the warship’s nickname on Chinese social media.

“It implies the vessel is the country’s dragon boat – a good blessing,” he said.

Li added that “time is precious” for the aircraft carrier. “The installation of all of the weapon systems and the activation of its propulsion system will only start after the hull is proven to have no leaks once it goes into the water.”

The military insider said the shipyard had been scrambling to catch up after Covid-19 restrictions in Shanghai, with nearly 4,000 people back at work on the aircraft carrier since late April.

That was well before the city is due to return to work on Wednesday after a coronavirus outbreak prompted more than two months of strict curbs and lockdowns.

“The shipyard was able to resume work earlier because its operations are under a closed-off management system,” the person said. “None of the workers have been allowed to go out.”

All employees were required to show negative PCR test results for at least the previous week before they returned to work, according to earlier reports.

The new aircraft carrier has a flat-top flight deck equipped with three electromagnetic catapults, similar to the world’s most advanced aircraft launch systems. It is expected to be named the Jiangsu, in line with the protocol of naming the vessels after coastal provinces from north to south.