China's first domestically built aircraft carrier sets out to sea near the Dalian Shipyard in Liaoning Province Sunday morning before its first sea trial. Photo: VCG
China's first domestically built aircraft carrier set out to sea from a port outside the Dalian Shipyard Sunday morning to begin its first sea trial, as experts said the carrier will likely be delivered to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy by the end of this year.
The aircraft carrier cast off from a port in Dalian at 5:30 am Sunday. It was assisted by several tug boats and accompanied by a fireworks display and the vessel's full-throated horn. At 7:14 am the carrier made a successful turn and headed out to sea, disappearing in the fog at 7:30 am.
Many locals and tourists came to the port to take photos of the ship's maiden voyage.
The sea trials are being conducted by the shipbuilder and will test the ship's basic systems, including power, communication, fire safety and electro-mechanical functions, Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Sunday.
The PLA Daily reported on Sunday that the first sea trial will mainly focus on testing the reliability and stability of the ship's power systems.
"Weapon systems and carrier-based aircraft are unlikely to be part of the first sea trial. Combat capability tests will be carried out after the carrier is delivered to the navy. The builder needs about six months to finish its testing, which means we can expect to receive the ship by the end of this year," Song said.
The ship is China's second aircraft carrier, and construction began in 2013. The country's first carrier is the Liaoning, or Type 001, which was purchased from Ukraine and was refitted at the same shipyard in Dalian.
Because the new ship's design is based on the Liaoning but with more advanced technologies, the media and some military observers have labeled it a "Type 001A," but neither the builder nor the PLA have named the ship or designated a ship type.
From shore it appears that a radar system and some defensive weapons have been installed on the ship's deck. These likely include the Hongqi-10 surface-to-air missile system and Type 1130 close-in weapon system.
Complete outfitting of the ship is expected to take another year. Experts said that would be a pretty quick time frame, but is based on the experiences learned from the retrofitting of the Liaoning, which is now in active service and has conducted many training missions including cruising near Taiwan.
The ships' builder required about a year to complete 10 sea trials of the Liaoning, which was formally delivered to the navy on September 25, 2012.
"At that time, we had no experience building aircraft carriers, so we needed more time to test every detail step by step. Thanks to the knowledge we gained from the Liaoning, the sea trials of the new carrier are likely to be easier and smoother, so the PLA navy won't need to wait too long," said Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie.
Quicker combat capability
The carrier's builder is the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Co, a subsidiary of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC).
CSIC Chairman Hu Wenming told China Central Television that the new carrier is a conventional power medium-size aircraft carrier of between 40,000-60,000 tons. "France's Charles de Gaulle and Russia's Admiral Kuznetsov are medium-size aircraft carriers. The Charles de Gaulle is the only one in the class that is nuclear-powered."
Many of the US' 11 aircraft carriers are large, nuclear-powered, carriers in the 100,000 ton-class, that can carry more aircraft. The US' advanced carrier the Gerald R. Ford is undergoing sea trials and is expected to be combat ready by 2022, Li said.
"It took the Liaoning six years to formally gain combat capability. The second carrier might need about two years, so China is expected to have two aircraft carrier strike groups by 2020," said Shi Hong, executive chief editor of the Chinese military magazine Shipborne Weapons.
Newspaper headline: Carrier sets out for sea trial