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China’s Construction of ‘Most Advanced’ Aircraft Carrier Nearing Completion: Satellite Images

According to recent satellite imagery, China's most advanced aircraft carrier appears to be nearing completion — with experts suggesting the vessel could soon be launched — highlighting China's growing military prowess
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights' related issues, politics, tech and society.
Published: June 5, 2022
The Type 003 is China's second homegrown aircraft carrier and has been under construction since 2018 at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai. (Image: via satellite imagery provided by Maxar/CSIS)

Following an extensive lull at the usually busy Jiangnan Shipyard, China is one step closer to launching its largest and most advanced aircraft carrier, named the Type 003. The newly developed vessel has been under construction near Shanghai since 2018.

Satellite imagery from May 31 showed that the dry dock where the much-anticipated warship is currently positioned has been cleared of other projects, leaving an open path for the flat-top carrier to enter the Yangtze River — the longest river in Asia and China’s principal waterway. 

The images showed that work on the vessel is nearly done — and comes after a stretch of limited activity at Jiangnan — likely due to the city’s “zero-COVID” measures enacted across Shanghai since mid-March.

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In satellite images snapped on June 2, equipment behind the carrier appeared to have been removed, suggesting the drydock used for floating the vessel was ready for launch. Previous images showed work ongoing and cloud coverage meant satellite images weren’t available for several days.

Official launch delayed due to ‘operational needs’

The carrier has been described as a “symbol of the country’s growing military might” and a “seminal moment” in China’s modernization efforts to upgrade its military weaponry. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, China has usually paired military milestones to launch during national holidays and anniversaries, and suggested the vessel would likely be inaugurated during the Dragon Boat festival, which took place on June 3.

However, the country’s Maritime Safety Administration did not issue any notice on June 2 to warn passing commercial ships of special arrangements in the waters of Jiangnan — which occurred when the previous carrier, the Shandong, was launched in 2017, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.

A notice by the administration dated June 2 said a deep excavation project of the Jiangnan shipbuilding company would be postponed to June 30, citing “operational needs” as the reason.

Two independent sources with connections to the Chinese military told SCMP that there were likely “technical problems related to the next phase of the vessel’s construction”— which is equipped with cutting-edge equipment and technology.

A crucial milestone

Although experts have suggested the Type 003 won’t enter into official military service or be combat-ready until at least 2024, its launch still signifies a crucial milestone in China’s ongoing modernization efforts as well as a symbol of the country’s growing military operations. 

“The launch of the Type 003 means the part of construction works inside the dry dock is complete, and is expected to kick off another new phase of more comprehensive outfitting works if no problems with leaks are found,” Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at Taiwanese Naval Academy said.

“The outfitting works will involve countless tests … meaning the Type 003 will stay in dock for a while before it goes out to sea for trials. However, the launch will be a pivotal moment for [China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy],” Lu said. 

Type 003 will be able to rival U.S. Navy

Still, military analysts have said they anticipate the new vessel to be the most advanced Chinese carrier to date — with certain capabilities even able to rival that of the U.S. Navy’s. 

Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank in Beijing, told the SCMP that the Type 003 would have the ability to carry Shenyang J-15s — an all-weather, 4th-generation multirole fighter aircraft. 

“As a conventionally powered aircraft carrier with about 65,000 tonnes of displacement, the Type 003 is just on the par with the USS Kitty Hawk platform,” Zhou said, referring to the American carrier that was retired in 2009 and taken out of rotation earlier this year.