China's first domestically built aircraft carrier is the latest sign that the world's second-largest economy is developing a unified carrier program to secure its interests in nearby and international waters.
The new vessel, which doesn't yet have an official name but goes by "Type 001A," is widely expected to undergo its first sea trials soon. It is Beijing's second aircraft carrier and the first to be constructed entirely from scratch. The Liaoning, the country's first, is a former Soviet hull that was built in Ukraine and later refitted by the Chinese.
"The Type 001A is a major milestone for the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)," researchers at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said in a note this week. "China is working toward incrementally matching some of the best carrier technology in the world, and the Type 001A is a big step in ... that direction."
The new ship is anticipated to be delivered to China's navy by the end of the year, but it could be a few more years until it's ready to be used.
The Type 001A isn't considered a major technological breakthrough in itself. It shares similar capabilities as the Liaoning, including comparable propulsion systems and ski jump-style launches for aircraft takeoff. The latter is considered more fuel-intensive and less efficient than the steam catapults used by the U.S. Navy.