China’s most advanced aircraft carrier appears to be nearing completion, with experts suggesting the vessel could soon be launched.
The newly developed Type 003 carrier has been under construction at the Jiangnan Shipyard near Shanghai since 2018.
The launch for the carrier has been long anticipated and satellite images show work on the vessel is nearly done.
It has been described as a “symbol of the country’s growing military might” and a “seminal moment” in China’s modernisation efforts, by think tank the Centre of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
According to CSIS, China has in the past paired military milestones with existing holidays and anniversaries and it suggested the vessel could be launched as soon as Friday to coincide with the national Dragon Boat Festival.
In satellite images taken on Tuesday equipment behind the carrier appears to have been removed, a step toward flooding the entire drydock and floating the vessel.
Previous images showed work ongoing and cloud coverage meant satellite images weren’t possible from Wednesday to Friday.
China’s Ministry of National Defence has not yet responded to a request for comment.
A launch date has not been announced but state-run newspaper Global Times said this week that it “could be launched soon”, adding the Chinese navy had recently released a promotional video.
The United States estimates the carrier won’t be operational until 2024, first needing to undergo extensive sea trials, but it is China’s most advanced yet.
The new carrier class is fitted with a catapult launch system that will “enable it to support additional fighter aircraft, fixed-wing early-warning aircraft, and more rapid flight operations and thus extend the reach and effectiveness of its carrier-based strike aircraft,” the US Defence Department said in its annual report to Congress on China’s military in November.
“In particular, the PRC’s (People’s Republic of China’s) aircraft carriers and planned follow-on carriers, once operational, will extend air defence coverage beyond the range of coastal and shipboard missile systems and will enable task group operations at increasingly longer ranges,” it said, adding that the Chinese navy’s “emerging requirement for sea-based land-attack systems will also enhance the PRC’s ability to project power”.
The development is part of the broader modernisation of China’s military capabilities, as it seeks to extend its influence in the region.
It is already home to the largest navy in the world, in terms of the number of ships but it is not near the capabilities of the US Navy.
The development of the carrier comes as the US has been increasing its focus on the region, including in the South China Sea.