Construction of China’s first full-sized aircraft carrier is well under way, according to satellite images obtained and analyzed by a U.S. think tank.
The images from April, provided to Reuters by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, reveal considerable recent activity during the last six months on a large vessel at the Jiangnan shipyard outside Shanghai.
China has not formally confirmed it is building a third carrier, despite recent hints in state media, and the timing and extent of its carrier program remain state secrets.
The Pentagon said last week that work had begun, but no images have emerged until now.
Both Asian and Western militaries, and regional security analysts, are seeking information on the carrier, which is expected to be China’s first large, modern platform capable of leading a full range of strike group operations.
The effort to build a large, locally designed carrier is seen as a core part of China’s extensive military modernization drive. A series of recent Reuters Special Reports showed how that effort is challenging decades of U.S. strategic superiority in East Asia. (Click this link to read the series: https://www.reuters.com/investigates/section/china-army)
The CSIS images show a bow section that appears to end with a flat 30-metre (98-foot) front and a separate hull section 41 meters wide, with gantry cranes looming overhead.
That suggests a vessel, which China has dubbed Type 002, somewhat smaller than 100,000-tonne U.S. carriers but larger than France’s 42,500-tonne Charles de Gaulle, analysts say.
Fabrication halls the size of several soccer pitches have been built nearby, and work appears to be continuing on a floodable basin, possibly to float the finished hull into the nearby Yangtze River estuary.
“While details regarding the Type 002 are limited, what is observable at Jiangnan is consistent with what is expected for the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s third aircraft carrier,” said the CSIS’ ChinaPower analysis, due to be published on its website later Tuesday.
CSIS analyst Matthew Funaiole told Reuters that images taken late last year were inconclusive, but that now the work under way is clear.
“From what we can see there has been a lot of activity in the last six months or so,” he said. “It would appear that it is the third carrier, and if it is not, it’s hard to envisage what other large vessel it would be.”