Just as China’s first homemade aircraft carrier, currently known as Type 001A, was sent out for full-scale sea trials this week, Chinese media began tossing around the idea that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) needs four more.
At the moment, China only has one fully operational aircraft carrier: the Liaoning, which was rebuilt using an unfinished Russian Soviet-era aircraft carrier named Varyag. China built a second aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, on their own, and it is now undergoing tests. The new carrier might be delivered to the PLA-Navy by the end of the year and commissioned sometime within the next two years, the Asia Times reported.
According to the Times, Chinese media outlets are suggesting that the PLA needs a total of six carriers in order to form convoys and strike groups to advance China’s interests in the region. The outlet also indicated that additional carriers would help China to get a handle on “emergencies on several fronts” in a “worst-case scenario.”
A third carrier, the outlet speculated, could be built sometime in the next decade. However, officials have not officially spoken on the matter.
But not every Chinese outlet is pushing the same story — state media publications report that Beijing has no intention of kicking off a “carrier arms race” with the mighty United States, which has a total of 20 carriers.
Wang Yunfei, a Beijing-based naval expert and retired naval admiral, says China doesn’t intend to build as many carriers as has been suggested, stressing that China’s goal isn’t to mirror the US.
“The PLA Navy’s mission is to safeguard China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests, rather than play ‘world police,'” he said.
Whether or not Chinese military leaders decide to build more carriers, its team of shipbuilders are ready for the challenge, Hu Wenming, chairman of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, said on state television.
“We have already developed a team of experts in the research, design and construction [of aircraft carriers], and their average age is just 36,” Hu said, according to a South China Morning Post report. “In the future, if the country wants to develop any type of aircraft carrier, we have the capability to do it.”
China’s Type 001A carrier took some four years to build. It’s unclear when the country may start creating another.