China’s first indigenously built aircraft carrier began inaugural sea trials on Sunday, in a display of the Asian giant’s growing technological prowess and as it seeks to expand the reach of its navy further into the Pacific.
The massive 50,000-metric-ton carrier, known only as the “Type 001A,” left a shipyard in Dalian, in northeast China’s Liaoning province, on Sunday morning at around 6:45 a.m. local time amid thick fog and with assistance from several tugboats, before navigating out to sea under its own power, state-run media said.
China’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on its website that the trial aims to demonstrate the “reliability and capability” of the ship’s propulsion system, adding that its construction has been “proceeding as planned.”
The vessel is the country’s second aircraft carrier. The country’s sole operational carrier, the Kuznetsov-class Liaoning, was originally purchased incomplete from Ukraine in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse. The Type 001A, however, was built from scratch in China.
One of the key differences between Liaoning and the Type 001A is that while the first carrier was intended to be used as a training asset, the new vessel can be used as a front-line combat vessel.
The state-run China Daily newspaper reported Sunday that the new ship will do what a carrier “is supposed to do: running combat-ready patrols and safeguarding the nation’s maritime sovereignty and interests.”
China is in the midst of a military modernization program heavily promoted by President Xi Jinping, who has overseen a shift in focus toward creating a more potent fighting force, including projects such as building the second carrier, integrating stealth fighters into its air force and fielding an array of advanced missiles that can strike air and sea targets from long distances.
The new carrier gives China more options as it asserts its claims in the disputed South China Sea and seeks to deter any independence movements in Taiwan.
Construction on the Type 001A, the largest and most sophisticated naval vessel in China, began in November 2013 and work in the dry dock started in March 2015. The carrier was launched — moved into the water — in April last year, the China Daily reported.
It has finished the outfitting process, where engineers installed and fine-tuned all of the ship’s interior equipment and weapons, the report said.
Chinese state media has quoted analysts as saying the carrier is likely to be ready to be combat ready two years after its expected delivery to the navy at the end of this year.
The new carrier’s name and hull code remain unknown as the People’s Liberation Army Navy usually makes public such information only once a ship is commissioned.