China has officially unveiled its first domestically-produced aircraft carrier, and the second of its fleet, on Wednesday, amid strong tensions on the Korean peninsula over the Kim Jong-un regime’s armament program. The ship, which according to local media have been named Shandong, was thrown in a high-profile ceremony in the port of Dalian in the northeast of the country.
At 315 meters long by 75 meters wide, the carrier moves 50,000 tons and will reach a cruising speed of 31 knots (about 60 kilometers per hour), according to the Chinese news agency Xinhua. The ship, the crown jewel of the Chinese armed forces, which will have a crew of a thousand people, is not yet finished: it is still necessary to complete its interior equipment and its engines, as well as equipping it with weapons. It is not expected to enter service until 2020.
China is immersed in a deep modernization of its Army, which has involved the reduction in 300,000 soldiers of a force of 2.3 million and the restructuring of its commandos. It wants to accelerate its strength and abandon a traditional land-based model based on a large number of soldiers, to enhance its missile technology, its air force and, above all, a powerful deep-sea operational fleet. A fleet that develops while increasing the firmness of its claims of sovereignty in the waters of the south and east of China. Xi Jinping has demanded that the Army take the necessary steps to become a force “capable of fighting and winning wars”.
But so far, this country only had one aircraft carrier, Liaoning, which was remodeled a former Ukrainian vessel, the Varyag, bought in 1998. The Liaoning entered service in 2012 and has been essentially devoted to training.
The Shandong, which began to be developed in 2013 and which Beijing confirmed it was building in 2015, bases its structure on that predecessor, although it incorporates technical improvements. It has more hangar space to accommodate a larger number of J-15 fighters, and larger deck area for helicopters and other equipment. It maintains the jump ramp similar to that of Liaoning.
China is still far behind the US, the country that spends the most on the defense of the world, in the development of these ships. The largest military power has a fleet of 10 Nimitz nuclear aircraft carriers, which move up to 100,000 tons. The Shandong has conventional engines. “Although the new ship will be a much improved version of Liaoning, it will not be as advanced as American aircraft carriers, including Nimitz-type nuclear or the newer Gerald Ford-type nuclear-type aircraft, in terms of size, combat “, said the analyst of the Army Institute of Naval Military Studies Li Jie, in comments to the newspaper” China Daily “.
Beijing has made it clear that it does not intend to settle for only one more aircraft carrier. It is both strategic and prestigious: India, one of its great regional rivals, has two and expects to receive a third one next year. In comments that were quickly censored on the Internet when the construction of Liaoning was confirmed, Chinese officials mentioned that the country aspires to have a minimum of four aircraft carriers. Military experts from this country have pointed out the possibility of reaching six.
China is the second country that invests more in Defense of the world. This year has officially increased its budget by 7%, the smallest increase over the last seven years, although analysts estimate that the figures published do not include all actual spending.