China sends its first aircraft carrier to sea

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

The unfinished Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag, which China purchased in 2001, was used as the base of the vessel.
Image: US Navy.

The state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua reported yesterday that China had sent its first aircraft carrier to sea for a trial. This marks an important step forward in China's efforts to become a leading naval power and challenge US superiority in Asia. China will be joining a small group of nations with operational aircraft carriers — the United States, Italy, the UK, France, Thailand, Brazil, India, Russia, and Spain are the other nations have aircraft carriers in operation.

The 1,000-foot carrier is based on the unfinished Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag, which China purchased in 2001, and is designed to carry approximately 2,000 people and 50 fighter jets. It cannot yet be defined as fully operational, since while it has a new engine, radar, guns and other equipment, it does not have enough combat power to pose a serious threat without the support of other ships. BBC reporter Michael Bristow estimates that it will be a few years before the vessel is fully operational. According to Chinese officials, the carrier will mainly be used for training crew and fighter pilots who need training to take off and land in the limited space of aircraft carriers.

China has said that it is not attempting to challenge the US navy, which has 11 aircraft carriers in operation — 10 of which are nuclear-powered Nimitz class aircraft carriers that can carry 6,250 people. However, the ship is still viewed by Chinese people as a powerful symbol of the growing strength of the Chinese navy which, according to some analysis, may catch up with the US in a few decades.