‘February sea trial’ for China’s first homemade carrier

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A photo taken at Dalian Shipyard this month shows the uptick bow of the carrier Type 002. Photo: Handout

Speculation is rife again that China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier, codenamed Type 002, will embark on her maiden voyage into the Bohai Sea from the Dalian Shipyard after the Chinese Lunar New Year break in February.

During the year’s last press conference on Thursday, a spokesperson for the People’s Liberation Army fielded questions about the construction of Type 002, but minced his words on the exact timetable for the indigenous carrier’s sea trial and commission.

Yet the Beijing-based Global Times reported on Friday that Type 002 – almost an exact replica of the Liaoning, a Soviet-built and PLA-revamped carrier – will sail out of its dock for the first time around the Lunar New Year holiday. It cited fresh photos taken in December as evidence.

The apex of the vessel’s “island” has been fitted out with electronically-scanned array radars, and metal scaffolding is being peeled from the exterior, as seen in these photos.

“For sure the speed is impressive, as it has only taken 10 months after the [new carrier’s] dry dock was flooded for the first time in April till the builder’s trial and acceptance trial at sea, to be conducted in February 2018,” a military expert told the newspaper.

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Metal scaffolding is being peeled off from the exterior of the island structure on the Type 002 carrier. Photo: Handout

A separate post in a WeChat account managed by Xinhua also revealed that the carrier is “ready to go” after some finishing touches are put on the flight deck and the temperature of the Bohai Sea rises.

Meanwhile, Chinese news portal Sina says that two “next generation” Chinese carriers, from a program called Type 003, are rumored to have done away the upward-curved ramp on the bow for a more advanced electromagnetic launch system. These may be built concurrently at the Dalian facility and the Jiangnan Shipyard on Shanghai’s Changxing Island.

Evidence backing this was the fact that 1,600-ton gantry cranes have been erected at Jiangnan Shipyard’s No-3 Dock, the website said.

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The Jiangnan Shipyard on Shanghai’s Changxing Island. Photo: Google Maps

Previous reports all suggested that China had completed the design for the third-generation homemade carriers that, although steam propelled like their predecessors, would be capable of generating adequate power to power these launch pads.

Onshore tests of linear motors to catapult aircraft have seen “more than 1,000 successful takeoffs”, giving the PLA confidence to try out a range of seagoing airbase technology on Type 003 carriers, right after the Pentagon commissioned the Gerald R Ford in July, the first US carrier with such electromagnetic launch pads.

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An artist’s impression of the Type 003 carrier created by Chinese military fans. The next generation carriers have a flat flight deck. Photo: Handout

Read: Beijing anxious to deny new aircraft carrier is Soviet copycat

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