Satellite photos published by IHS Jane’s 360 this week might show China’s first indigenous aircraft carrier while it’s under construction.
The suspected carrier’s construction site in China’s northeastern port of Dalian was first spotted in satellite photography taken on May 1. Continued construction over the following months revealed the development of a vessel that could be in line with the specifications for an aircraft carrier.
- CNES 2015, Distribution Airbus DS / ©2015 IHS: 1640204
Jane’s notes that the vessel could be as long as 885 feet (270 m) when the bow is taken into account, which would put the ship within necessary carrier size. Still, until the upper decks of the vessel are completed it is impossible to definitively conclude that the ship is indeed a carrier.
Instead, the ship could be “a new class of amphibious assault ship or helicopter carrier,” Jane’s reports.
Other evidence supports the idea that China is currently building an ingeniously designed aircraft carrier. Reuters reports that according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, China is constructing two aircraft carriers that will be the same size as its current carrier, the Liaoning.
The Liaoning, a 302-meter (990-foot) former Soviet vessel capable of carrying 50 aircraft or helicopters, is the largest carrier in Asia. As the bow and aft parts of the suspect vessel continue to be expanded and lengthened, it could equal the size of the Liaoning.
- CCTV/Popular Science
Additionally, satellite images on Google Maps indicate that Beijing had constructed a model aircraft carrier in Wuhan Province by February 2015. The model is estimated to be 300 meters (984 feet) long and 80 meters (262 feet) wide. The model is complete with a helicopter landing pad and a model of a carrier-borne aircraft.
The mockup is likely to be used for the testing of communication systems aboard a future carrier.
According to AFP, Chinese local media reported that a company was awarded a contract to supply the cabling necessary for the vessel’s construction. Late last year, another Chinese media story quoted Wang Min, the Communist Party secretary of Liaoning province, discussing Beijing’s expectation of having a second aircraft carrier by around 2020.
Both stories were quickly deleted from the Chinese media outlets after their publication.
The push to develop an aircraft is part of Beijing’s drive towards becoming its region’s unquestioned military power.
In addition to the carrier, China has been developing a new generation of antiship cruise missiles, guided-missile naval destroyers, and ballistic-missile submarines in an effort to more effectively project power in areas far from the Chinese coastline.