In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) was not taken seriously as a maritime threat. The Royal Australian Navy offloaded the HMAS Melbourne (R21), an old World War II, Majestic-class light aircraft carrier to the Chinese for breaking in 1985. However, the scrapping was delayed so the PLAN could examine Melbourne as part of a top secret project to develop a domestic Chinese aircraft carrier. In 1987, Beijing landed its first fighter jet on the aircraft carrier, as the PLAN turned the vessel into a “source of valuable technical intelligence for an ambitious Chinese military,” said news.com.au.
At this time, few western military analysts expected Beijing would ever have the capacity to develop aircraft carriers in the future. They were wrong. The Chinese stunned the West with the unveiling of its first fully operational aircraft carrier, Liaoning, in 2012. The stripped down aircraft carrier was purchased in 1998 and towed to the Dalian naval shipyard in northeast China for the eventual transfer to the PLAN in 2002.
Earlier this month, the PLAN assembled all of its most advanced warships, aircraft carrier, aircraft, and nuclear submarines for a massive show of force in the South China Sea. State-run Chinese papers said the number of warships assembled “the largest of its kind in 600 years.” This is following the 14th-century fleet admiral Zheng He, whose large expeditions in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Western Asia, and East Africa — helped establish China’s power through expansion of the Maritime Silk Road during the Ming dynasty era.
As we explained before, the Maritime Silk Road during the Ming dynasty era looks similar to President Xi Jinping 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road.
Beijing has come a long way since its experimental days with HMAS Melbourne in the late 1980s. Many western military anaylst doubted the PLAN’s capabilities of retrofitting an old Soviet-era aircraft carrier, which was commissioned in 2012. Its taken nearly three decades, for Beijing to have one fully operational aircraft carrier parading around the South China Sea. However, Beijing’s motive behind its aircraft carrier ambitions is becoming increasingly evident: The implementation of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road through a strong naval force.
Meanwhile, the PLAN has been busy building another.
According to the South China Morning Post, Beijing’s first domestically built aircraft carrier is expected to begin sea trials imminently, a source close to the PLAN said.
“Pictures from Dalian suggest that China’s second aircraft carrier will soon make its sea debut,” said a New York Times reporter in China.
This aircraft carrier, so far known as Type 001A (CV-17), is a reversed-engineered and upgraded version of the Soviet-built Liaoning. Last year, the hull was launched at the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company, located in Dalian, Liaoning province, China, the largest shipbuilding company in the country. It has since been undergoing outfittings, which is the process in shipbuilding that follows the float-out of a vessel and precedes sea trials. So far, the vessel has been subjected to harbourside tests and examinations.
On Monday, tugboats have been spotted positioning the vessel “from its wharf in preparation for its first independently powered foray at sea,” said news.com.au.
Tugboats are seen positioning China’s new aircraft carrier – known as Type 001A (CV-17) – away from its dock in preparation for its first powered test at sea. Source: (WeiboSource)
The Liaoning Maritime Safety Administration announced last Friday that three designated testing zone in the Bohai Sea region, have been declared as “no-go zones’ until April 28. It is expected that the vessel could head to the testing region as soon as midweek.
“The first sea trials of China’s second aircraft carrier, built at the Dalian shipyard, are likely to take place in the Bohai Sea and Yellow Sea to test its power and design,” Song Zhongping, a military expert, and TV commentator, told the state-operated Global Times.
The Post said the main engine test was conducted on Tuesday, indicating sea trials are imminent. The vessel is entering service 12-months ahead of schedule, which points to the growing sense of urgency as China-United States relations deteriorate.
“Latest pics of China’s yet-to-be-named new aircraft carrier fitting out at Dalian, seen on 16 April. Not yet ready for sea trials – note all the clutter on the flight deck – but engine trials are definitely underway marked by smoke from the funnel,” said a former naval warfare correspondent at Defense News.
Latest pics of #China's yet-to-be-named new aircraft #carrier fitting out at #Dalian, seen on 16 April. Not yet ready for sea trials - note all the clutter on the flight deck - but engine trials are definitely under way marked by smoke from the funnel. https://t.co/zxUwcx7n1G pic.twitter.com/PlhysDVZAI— Chris Cavas (@CavasShips) April 18, 2018
Another military source told the South China Morning Post that the “trial would test the ship’s basic functions, including power, damage control and radar and communication systems, as well as checking for leakage.”
“There is growing external pressure for China to speed up the development of its aircraft carrier so that it is the main force of the navy, especially since the US has increased its deployment in Asia,” said Ni Lexiong, a naval expert at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.
“But China is still 10 to 20 years behind the US in this competition.”
China Global Television Network provides video of the new aircraft carrier:
It is likely before 2020, Beijing will have two combat-ready aircraft carriers patrolling the South China Sea, which will greatly enhance its firepower far beyond its borders. It is an event that further shifts the balance of power in its favor and provides a clear runway for 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road. The world is changing, and American exceptionalism is crumbling…