China is near the launch of its most advanced aircraft carrier yet, a Type 003, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), citing satellite imagery from private company Maxar Technologies.
The dry dock where the ship has been constructed has recently been cleared of other shipbuilding projects, leaving a path for the carrier to be moved into the Yangtze River, authors Matthew P. Funaiole, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., and Brian Hart wrote on the CSIS website in a Thursday post.
High resolution satellite imagery taken on May 31 shows the new activities following much slower activity at the site due to COVID-19 lockdowns.
China likes to pair such military milestones with holidays and anniversaries, CSIS notes. That could point to Friday, June 3, they said, which is both the The Dragon Boat Festival, a national holiday with ancient Chinese origins, and the 157th anniversary of Jiangnan Shipyard's founding.
It will be years before the carrier goes into military service and reaches initial operating capability, according to CSIS, but the achievement still marks a major step in China's military growth.
The Type 003 is China's third aircraft carrier, The Wall Street Journal reported, and is its largest and most advanced yet, using new electromagnetic catapult technology similar to what U.S. and French carriers use to launch aircraft.
A U.S. official told the Journal that the ship could launch from its dry dock any time, but noted that construction is not yet complete.
"There’s significant work to do before the carrier will be able to go to sea and start trials," the official said.
"Once operational, China’s third carrier will greatly expand its ability to secure its near-sea interests while also enabling the (Chinese Navy) to project power further away from the Chinese mainland," Funaiole, senior fellow with the China Power Project at CSIS, told the Journal.
"All signs point to this progress continuing for its fourth, fifth and maybe even a sixth carrier," he said.
The United States leads the world in deployed aircraft carriers at 11.
China's latest carrier bests its two existing ones — its first is a rehabbed Soviet carrier; its second was built on the design of the first — but even with the three carriers operational, China still has no fighter jets capable of takeoffs and landings on carriers. Its next-generation Chengdu J-20 fighter is years away from going into service.
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