On April 26 at the Dalian Shipyard in China’s northern province of Liaoning, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier.

Adhering to Naval tradition, the hull of the new ‘Type 001A’ was transferred from the dock into the water,  formalising the vessels’ ingress to the fleet. A piece by a GRI Analyst working for the British government.

Most likely to be named ‘Shandong’ after the Chinese port, the carrier is expected to be operable by 2020, joining China’s first and only carrier currently in service – the Liaoning – in Beijing’s pursuit for maritime power.

Like the Liaoning, the new carrier is based on the Kuznetsov-class design from the Soviet era in its deck and take-off styling as well as in its propulsion abilities.

The unveiling of the Type 001A was followed by numerous international news outlets declaring that this proved China is significantly ramping up its defence capabilities, acting more aggressively in the maritime arena, and expanding its overseas ambitions.

Certainly, the launch of a new aircraft carrier poses fresh questions around China’s current naval defence capabilities, but despite this being a decisive step forward for President Xi and the Chinese military, they are still light-years away from being a force to test the US and as such their capabilities should not be exaggerated. Come 2030, however, there may be a different story to tell.

The changing face of Chinese defence

China is now the seventh country with the ability to build its own aircraft carriers after the US, Russia, Britain, France, Italy and Spain. However, although the launch of the new carrier in Dalian was cause for celebration, the carrier’s wider début was not all smooth sailing – perhaps itself indicative of the wider chasm between how the launch was reported in the media and the PLAN’s own naval proficiency.

Shortly after a bottle of champagne was cracked on the hull, China’s defence ministry posted a photo on their Weibo and WeChat social media accounts to mark the PLAN’s 68th birthday. It showed navy ships and fighter jets…

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