Satellite images reveal 'factory' for China's aircraft carriers, say analysts

A combination image of satellite photos showing Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai, China, on Oct 3, 2018, April 17, 2019, and Sept 18, 2019. Analysts say expansive infrastructure work at the shipyard suggests China's first full-sized aircraft carrier wil
A combination image of satellite photos showing Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai, China, on Oct 3, 2018, April 17, 2019, and Sept 18, 2019. Analysts say expansive infrastructure work at the shipyard suggests China's first full-sized aircraft carrier will be the first of several large vessels produced at the site. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG/BEIJING • High-resolution satellite images show that the construction of China's first full-sized aircraft carrier is progressing steadily alongside expansive infrastructure work that analysts say suggests the ship will be the first of several large vessels produced at the site.

The images of the Jiangnan shipyard outside Shanghai were taken last month and provided to Reuters by the non-partisan Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), building on satellite photos it obtained last year.

Noting a series of prefabricated sections, bulkheads and other components stacked nearby, CSIS analysts say the hull should be finished within 12 months, after which it is likely to be moved to a newly created harbour and wharf before being fitted out.

The vast harbour on the Yangtze River estuary, including a wharf nearly 1km long and large buildings for manufacturing ship components, is nearly complete.

Much of the harbour area appeared to be abandoned farmland just a year ago, according to earlier images CSIS analysed.

It dwarfs an existing harbour nearby, where destroyers and other warships are docked.

"We can see slow but steady progress on the hull, but I think the really surprising thing these images show is the extensive infrastructure buildup that has gone on simultaneously," said CSIS analyst Matthew Funaiole.

"It is hard to imagine all this is being done for just one ship. This looks more like a specialised space for carriers and/or other larger vessels."

SPECIALISED SPACE?

It is hard to imagine all this is being done for just one ship. This looks more like a specialised space for carriers and/or other larger vessels.

CENTRE FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES ANALYST MATTHEW FUNAIOLE

The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies noted this year that China's military shipyards were focusing increasingly on larger surface warships, "adding to the sense that Chinese naval-capability development may be entering a new phase". China's Ministry of Defence did not respond to questions from Reuters.

Dr Funaiole said the latest images appeared to confirm the earlier photos, which suggested the new carrier would be smaller than the United States' 100,000-tonne "supercarriers" but larger than France's 42,500-tonne Charles de Gaulle.

Asian and Western militaries are tracking developments closely. They say this carrier would represent a vital step in China's ambitions to create a far-ranging navy that can project power around the world to serve Beijing's expanding global interests. It is expected to be China's first carrier with a flat deck and catapult launch system, allowing the use of a wider range of aircraft and more heavily armed fighter jets.

China's first two carriers are relatively small, accommodating up to only 25 aircraft that are launched from ramps built onto their decks. US carriers routinely deploy with nearly four times the number of aircraft.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2019, with the headline 'Satellite images reveal 'factory' for China's aircraft carriers, say analysts'. Print Edition | Subscribe