image courtesy:South China Morning Post

China has launched its first domestically designed and built aircraft carrier, state media said on Wednesday, as the country seeks to transform its navy into a force capable of projecting power onto the high seas,according to sources. Demonstrating the growing technical sophistication of its defence industries.

The 50,000-tonne new aircraft carrier, which will join an existing one bought from Ukraine in 1998, was transferred from a dry dock into the water at a launch ceremony in northeast Dalian shipyard of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corp (CSIC) amid streamers and champagne.

Beijing has embarked on an extensive project to build a “blue water” navy and modernise its two million-strong military, the world’s largest.

The as-yet unnamed vessel was towed from Dalian Shipyard, Liaoning, to a nearby wharf, China’s Ministry of National Defence said.

The carrier is touted to be a significant upgrade from the ‘Liaoning’, which was built more than 25 years ago and is a refurbished Soviet ship bought from Ukraine.

The new conventionally powered carrier will be able to operate China’s Shenyang J-15 fighter jets.

Unlike the U.S. navy’s longer-range nuclear carriers, both of China’s feature Soviet-design ski-jump bows, intended to give fighter jets enough lift to take off from their shorter decks. It limits the weight of the payloads its planes can carry, its speed and the amount of time it can spend at sea relative to American nuclear-powered carriers.But they lack the powerful catapult technology for launching aircraft of their U.S. counterparts.

According to reports,the carrier will likely carry at least 24 Shenyang J-15 fighters, which are based on the Russian Sukhoi Su-33. This coupled with 12 helicopters for anti-submarine warfare. That compares to 85-90 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters carried by a Nimitz-class carrier.

The Type 001A weighs about 70,000 tonnes, is 315 metres long, 75 metres wide and has a cruising speed of 31 knots.

The possession of a native aircraft carrier places China among the few military powers with such vessels, including the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom.

China began building its second carrier in November 2013. Dock construction started in March 2015. However, the carrier is not expected to enter active service until 2020

In March, China announced it would increase its military budget by about 7% this year – the second year in a row that increases have been less than 10%, after nearly 20 years of larger increases.

Earlier reports said Chinese navy which now has an expanded role among the military is set to raise its marine forces from 20,000 to one lakh as it started setting up logistic bases in Gwadar port in Pakistan and Djibouti in Africa.

The Launch comes at a time when several countries such as Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and China are locked in a bitter war of words over control of a group of South China Sea islands seemingly rich in natural resources. This development will also give Beijing more room to strategise and flex its muscles in the disputed islands.

Fan Changlong, a vice chairman of China’s powerful Central Military Commission, presided over the ceremony, Xinhua said, during which a bottle of champagne was broken on the bow.

The launch follows China’s celebration on Sunday of the 68th birthday of the founding of the Chinese navy, and comes amid renewed tensions between North Korea and the United States over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

China’s defence ministry has previously said the new carrier would displace 50,000 tonnes and use conventional rather than nuclear propulsion.

China is eager to show its strength in the South China Sea, where it insists on sovereignty over virtually all the resource-rich waters despite rival claims from its Southeast Asian neighbours.

But the message is clear: China is on the way to attaining the goal of being able to protect its interests, no matter where in the world they may be, and doing its part to ensure global peace and stability.