China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) commissioned its first domestically-built aircraft carrier, named Shandong (17), during a ceremony in Sanya in Hainan province on Tuesday, Dec. 17.
The commissioning ceremony was presided by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The ceremony was also attended by officials from the Southern Theatre Command that oversees the strategically sensitive South China Sea.
The Shandong aircraft carrier, designated as Type 001A, is the PLA Navy’s second aircraft carrier after Type 001 Liaoning, a retrofitted Soviet-era Admiral Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier. The new aircraft carrier’s design is largely based on Liaoning.
The carrier measures about 315 meters (1,033 ft) long, with a displacement of about 55,000 tonnes (70,000 loaded).
Shandong is fitted with a ski-jump assisted Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) launch system, also installed aboard the Liaoning. She will be able to carry up to 24 Shenyang J-15 fighter jets, a variant of the Russian Sukhoi Su-33, as well as around ten helicopters including Changhe Z-18, Ka-31, or Harbin Z-9.
The carrier was constructed by the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry, part of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, in Dalian, Liaoning province, China. The fabrication of the vessel started in November 2013. The ship was launched on 26 April 2017 and began her sea trials last year.
China also reportedly began construction of a third aircraft carrier, designated Type 002, at a Shanghai shipyard. This carrier will be equipped with a conventionally-powered catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) aircraft launch system similar to the one used on U.S. Navy supercarriers. This system will enable the carrier to launch heavier jets such as Airborne Early Warning aircraft and also let the fighters takeoff with full payload of weapons and fuel.
It was announced earlier that the PLA Navy is also moving ahead with plans to build a fourth aircraft carrier. According to the reports, the construction of the aircraft carrier, which will be the most advanced carrier of the Navy, could start as early as 2021. The fourth vessel is also reportedly a Type 002 class aircraft carrier.
The report added that a plan for a fifth more advanced carrier is put on hold for now due to ‘technical challenges and high costs’.