China could have its first domestically built aircraft carrier in commission within a few months, after completing the latest round of sea trials on the Type 002 vessel.
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The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) first locally designed and built aircraft carrier returned from its fourth set of trials in the Yellow Sea to the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company (DSIC) shipyard.
The vessel, which is yet to be officially named, is believed to have carried out a number of advanced tests during the latest trial, including flyover tests and touchdowns on deck, and could be delivered by Chinese Navy Day on 23 April, according to Beijing-based military expert Li Jie.
“The engineers have gained experience after working on the Liaoning – such as what are the key issues or weaknesses the tests should focus on, and which areas are less likely to be problems,” Li said.
“So that means the testing on this vessel will move faster than for the Liaoning, it will take less time.”
The Type 002 is based on the Liaoning, which is China's only operational aircraft carrier for the time being.
China bought the Kuznetsov Class carrier in 1998 when the vessel was half built, and began refitting the warship in 2005.
The Liaoning was commissioned in 2012, with the Type 002 featuring a number of changes despite drawing inspiration from the carrier.
The Chinese-designed and built carrier will be able to carry 32 J-15 fighter jets, six more than the Liaoning is able to transport.
The Type 002 also features a bigger aircraft hangar and an updated design for the control tower and bridge, as well as more up-to-date radar and electronic systems.
Previous sea trials for the vessel (expected to be named Shandong) took place in May, August and October 2018.
The first round of trials was used to test the "reliability of the flattop's power and propulsion systems".
China's rapid expansion of naval capabilities comes as tensions continue to rise in the South China Sea, with Beijing keen to flex its authoritative muscle in the area.
Last week, China deployed D-26 missiles to its north-west region, in response to what it claims was a "trespass" by US warship USS McCampbell in the Taiwan Strait and Paracel Islands, and China's Rear Admiral Lou Yuan has been quoted as saying the disputes over the region could be solved by "sinking" two US aircraft carrier.