China's first home-built aircraft carrier set to carry out maiden sea trial in April

A file photo of soldiers of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) standing on a ship sailing off from a military port in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, on July 11, 2017.
A file photo of soldiers of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) standing on a ship sailing off from a military port in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, on July 11, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG - China's first home-built aircraft carrier will take to sea later this month (April) in her maiden sea voyage designed to coincide with the founding of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, reported South China Morning Post.

The yet-to-be-named carrier, temporarily referred to as Type 001A in the Chinese media, was launched on April 26 last year (2017).

Little is known about China's aircraft carrier programme, which is a state secret.

But the government has said the carrier's design draws on experiences from the country's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, bought from Ukraine in 1998 and refitted in China.

The new conventionally powered carrier has a displacement of 50,000 tonnes and will be able to operate China's Shenyang J-15 fighter jets.

The main difference between the two aircraft carriers is that the new one has more space for aircraft and helicopters, according to the China Daily.

The PLA Navy marks its 69th birthday on April 23.

Sources close to the military told the Post Type 001A will embark on her maiden sea voyage in the northeastern Bohai Sea later this month.

"Beijing will arrange a celebration for the first sea trial because the Type 001A was the first aircraft carrier fully designed and produced by Chinese shipbuilders," one of the sources told the Post, adding the maiden trial was likely to be carried out just before the April 23 anniversary.

"The specific sea trial day will be decided by hydrological and tidal conditions, with a high tide level being the best criteria."

Recent online photos showed the scaffolding removed from the vessel following outfitting work.

Last month, Liu Zheng, chairman of Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (DSIC), confirmed at sideline of the annual National People's Congress that the Type 001A was ready for sea trials.

Another source close to the navy said the trial would test the ship's basic functions, including power systems, damage control and radar and communication systems.

"The maiden trial may just involve turning a circle in Bohai bay, making sure every deck under the water does not suffer leaks," the naval source, who requested anonymity, told the Post.

He said the navy was concerned it could suffer similar problems to the ones experienced by Britain's £3.1 billion (US$4.3 billion) carrier the HMS Queen Elizabeth, where a faulty seal was blamed for leaks on a trial late last year.

"Unlike China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which was refurbished from a Russian-made steel hull, the Type 001A was made using a special Chinese steel, which is a new cutting-edge shipbuilding technology that needs to be tested.

"Safety is till the top priority of the maiden trial. If no leaks are found, the carrier may sail further to make it a longer voyage, probably two or three days."

Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie told The Post: "The navy will carry out other trials in future. The ship will be handed over to the navy only when it meets all quality control requirements.

"Once the ship joins the navy, it will also take a long time to turn it into a real combat ship."

Sources close to the navy told The Post last year that the new carrier might join the navy as early as the end of this year, or by 2019 - one year ahead of schedule.

Self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by Beijing as its own, has said China is actually building two new aircraft carriers, but China has not officially confirmed the existence of another carrier, according to Reuters

Chinese state media has quoted experts as saying that the country needs at least six carriers, and a network of bases around the world to support their operations. The US navy operates 10 aircraft carriers.