Type 001A: China’s first home-grown aircraft carrier on final sea run to combat readiness

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Type 001A: China’s first home-grown aircraft carrier on final sea run to combat readiness

The first Chinese-built aircraft carrier is entering the home straight to combat readiness with the start of a final sea trial that could last up to a year, according to observers.

Just three months after its maiden voyage, the 65,000-tonne Type 001A vessel left a shipyard in Dalian in the northeastern province of Liaoning on Sunday towed by several tugboats, according to photographs and footage posted online by the Chinese military.

The aircraft carrier headed out to the Yellow Sea two days after a Type 055 guided-missile destroyer, the region’s most advanced and biggest destroyer, and the carrier’s likely escort, also started its maiden sea trial.

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Military analysts said that the carrier’s second sea trial could take between six and 12 months but that the ship could be ready to be handed over to the Chinese navy by October 1 next year for the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the people’s republic.

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The vessel made its maiden voyage over five days from May 13, a trip that sources told the South China Morning Post involved a test to ensure there were no leaks below the waterline.

“This time the focus will be on testing the endurance of the new aircraft carrier’s propulsion system. The communications, command, damage control, lift operations and weapon systems will also be examinated,” Hong Kong-based military expert Song Zhongping said.

Song said the giant vessel would be handed over to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy soon after it completed the second trial.

“If everything runs smoothly this time, it’s very likely the Type 001A will formally join the PLA Navy before next year’s National Day,” he said.

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Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said the second trial might include some simulated and experimental take-off and landing operations for helicopters or even the J-15 carrier-based fighter jet.

“One of the key missions for the Type 001A’s second sea trial is to test the aircraft platform’s readiness to launch and reclaim carrier-based aircraft, so the J-15s might practise touch-and-go take-offs and missed-approach flights on the deck,” Li said.

“Unlike the Liaoning, which is a training platform, the Type 001A carrier was designed to be a real combat ship. The pilots and crew on board need to test all the equipment, include the refuelling and electronic charging systems.”

Li said China had amassed a great deal of experience over the past six years from sea trials and drills on the Liaoning, a Soviet Kuznetsov-class vessel bought from Ukraine in 1998 and retrofitted to become China’s first aircraft carrier.

China plans to create at least four carrier groups to fulfil the navy’s global blue-water ambitions and defend the country’s expanding overseas national interests. It has so far launched four 12,000-tonne Type 055 destroyers designed to guard the Type 001A and other future aircraft carriers.

Photos posted online showed one of the Type 055 destroyers starting its maiden trial near waters off its shipyard in Shanghai on Friday, indicating that it was on the way to teaming up with the Type 001A to form China’s first real carrier battle group.

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The destroyer is equipped with air­ defence, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons, and was built in parallel with the Type 001A and China’s next-generation carrier with advanced electromagnetic aircraft launch system, according to Li and Song.

“The Type 055 destroyer can incorporate a full electric propulsion system, meaning it could become a platform for the country’s first rail gun once it is ready,” Song said, adding that China had plans to build more of the destroyers.