On December 17, in a ceremony overseen by President Xi Jinping, China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier was commissioned into service with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
Construction of the new carrier – initially referred to as Type 001A but now officially named Shandong – began in November 2013 at the Dalian Shipyard of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC).
The Shandong set sail for its first sea trial in May 2018. Thereafter, it performed another nine sea trials. The final trial involved passing through the Taiwan Straits and entering the South China Sea to arrive at its home base in Sanya on China’s southern island of Hainan.
The new carrier marks the second for China, following the purchase and refit of the incomplete Soviet-legacy carrier Varyag from Ukraine in 1998. Upon being commissioned into the PLAN on September 25, 2012, the Varyag was rechristened the Liaoning.
The Shandong is a modified version of the Soviet Kuznetsov class design upon which the Liaoning is based. Also like the Liaoning, the Shandong is designed with a ski-jump flight deck and has a Short-Takeoff but Arrested Recovery (STABOR) launch system. However, the newer vessel can carry up to 36 J-15 combat aircraft – unlike its predecessor, which has capacity for just 24. With Z-9 helicopters and KJ-600 early warning aircraft included, the total aircraft capacity on the Shandong should reach 40.
Work on China’s third carrier – the tentatively designated Type 002 – began at the Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai in April 2017.
This carrier is being designed with a new integrated propulsion system capable of powering electromagnetic catapults (an electromagnetic aircraft launch system, or EMALS) in mind. The Type 002 is expected to look nothing like the first two, instead being based upon U.S. models. The latest carrier will reportedly have a displacement of up to 80,000 tons. Like the first two, it will be conventionally powered.
Work supposedly slowed on this carrier due to budget cuts and higher costs associated with the J-15, as per reports in the South China Morning Post in late November 2018.
Ultimately, China is expected to build up to six carriers, each with increased sea-going range and launch capacity. The aim is for the PLAN to field six carrier battle groups by 2035, with four of these aircraft carriers being nuclear-powered and featuring electromagnetic aircraft launch systems (EMALS).