China’s first domestically designed and produced aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, has finished its fourth rotation of sea trials and could now be ready for its first combat deployment within months.
The South China Morning Post reported the ship could be ready for fleet review by April following 13 days of trials in the Yellow Sea before returning to its home port in Dalian.
The ship, which has not yet been named, is actually China’s second carrier. The first, Liaoning, was actually a Soviet hull but had not been completed by the end of the Cold War. China purchased the hull and completed the vessel, though it has largely been used as a training carrier.
The Type 001A, by comparison, will be the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s first operational carrier.
Beijing-based military expert Li Jie told the SCMP sea trials and testing of the ship was nearly finished.
“The vessel has probably completed 80 to 90 percent of the necessary tests,” Li said. “I think it’s possible it can be delivered by the Chinese Navy Day on April 23.”
He added that the ship could be able to take part in the PLA Navy’s fleet review to be held on that date off Qingdao, in Shandong province.
Photos of the ship returning to port circulated online and appeared to show a J-15 multi-role fighter and a helicopter on its deck, the paper reported.
When the ship left port last month, it carried three warplanes and three blast shields that protect flight crews from jet exhaust during take-off.
The ship was launched in April 2017. It will carry 32 J-15 fighter jets – more than the Liaoning’s 26. The 315-meter-long (1,033 feet) Type 001A is steam-turbine powered and has a ski-jump deck, which means that fighters have to carry lighter loads than they normally would if they were launched like fighters from U.S. carriers.
At 70,000 tons displaced, the Type 001A is smaller than the USS Ford-class carriers (100,000 tons), and carry only about half as many aircraft than U.S. carriers (75-plus).
China is building two more carriers and could have as many as five or six by 2030.