China navy launches first self-propelled floating dock

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's navy has launched its first self-propelled floating dock, giving it the ability to repair warships far from the coast, the official People's Liberation Army Daily said on Tuesday (March 1), Beijing's latest move to modernise its navy.

The newspaper said the dock, the Huachuan No. 1, would enable the navy to return damaged ships to fighting capability "in very rapid time" and was designed to be sent into combat zones.

"The ship's launch marks a further breakthrough in shifting repairs to our military's large warships from set spots on the coast to mobility far out at sea," it added, showing a picture of a warship inside the floating dock.

The use of the dock means that ships with minor damage will not have to be taken out of service, while those with severe damage will not have to return to a shipyard, the paper said.

The dock can handle cruisers, destroyers and submarines, but not aircraft carriers, and can cope with waves up to 2m high, it added.

Beijing has invested billions developing its home-grown weapons industry to support its growing maritime ambitions in the disputed South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than US$5 trillion (S$7.02 trillion) in global trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.

Beijing has also cast an eye towards foreign markets for its comparatively low-cost technology. Its total military budget in 2015 was 886.9 billion yuan (S$190 billion), up 10 per cent from a year earlier.