China’s first self-built aircraft carrier will soon be ready for its official launch, Colonel Wu Qian, deputy head of the news bureau at China's Ministry of National Defense, told reporters yesterday in Beijing during a regular press conference.
"We won’t keep you waiting too long before the good news," Wu said when asked by reporters if local media reports regarding an official launch on April 23, the the 68th anniversary of the founding of China's navy, were true.
He said the vessel, likely to be called Shandonghao, was currently being fitted out for its launch. Recent photos of the carrier have been posted and shared on the Internet since early March. In the pictures, the vessel appears to have been painted and installation of radar equipment has began. Workers have also begun clearing the deck. Military experts say that the photos suggest that the carrier is almost ready for a launch.
The launch of China's self-built aircraft carrier is seen as an important milestone for China's military development and is expected to be publicly celebrated, with senior government and party leaders attending the ceremony.
China currently has one aircraft carrier, named Liaoninghao, which was refurbished from an unfinished vessel built by Ukraine for the Soviet Union’s navy.
Celebrations aside, being ready for a launch is only half of the work required for an aircraft carrier to reach full functionality. Analysts believe it will take another two to three years for the carrier to install all necessary on-board equipment and carry out necessary sea trials. It will take even longer for it to become militarily operational.
Analyst have suggested that one of the carrier's first task may be to patrol the South China Sea, where China has been building man-made islands in its claimed territories.