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China officially launches its first home-built aircraft carrier

China's new Type 001A aircraft carrier docked in August 2017. (GG001213/Wikimedia Commons)
May 14, 2018

China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier set sail for its first sea trials over the weekend, as the country continues to increase its efforts in competing with the navy prowess of the U.S. and Japan.

The 50,000-tonne ship, temporarily named Type 001A, conducted its maiden voyage from the Dalian seaport in the northeast province of Liaoning, according to Chinese state media, CNN reported. The ship is the second of its kind to join the navy fleet and the first to be designed and built solely in China.

While the aircraft carrier itself is a significant achievement for Beijing, experts say that its technology and capabilities are outdated and lag far behind those of the U.S.

“This is, in and of itself, not designed to be some frontal challenge to U.S. power in the Asia Pacific, because it simply isn’t in the class of America’s aircraft carriers,” said Sam Roggeveen, a senior fellow at Sydney’s Lowy Institute.

China’s new aircraft is bigger and better than its previous one.

At roughly 315 meters (about 1,033 feet) in length and 75 meters (about 246 feet) wide, the ship can carry as many as 40 aircraft.

And while China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was a reconditioned Soviet-era ship primarily used for training exercises, the Type 001A is a full-fledged combat-ready vessel.

The Type 001A will likely continue with sea trials for the foreseeable future and not officially be commissioned until at least 2020.

Most new aircraft carriers are subject to a myriad of issues that need to be ironed out when first launched.

With a defense budget of $175 billion dollars, China continues to push ahead with its plan to modernize and strengthen its military. But the country’s efforts still fall short of the United States’ nearly $700 billion defense spending package for 2018, with another increase slated for next year.

While China has now doubled its aircraft carrier fleet to two, the U.S. Navy fields 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers – more than any other nation in the world.