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Aircraft Carrier Construction Well Underway in China

August 4, 2011


Bill Gertz at the Washington Times has an article on Chinese aircraft carriers, a vogue topic these days.

China has begun work on its first aircraft carrier and probably will develop two or more, along with outfitting a former Russian carrier that is set to begin sea trials soon, Pentagon officials said.

“We expect China to build at least one indigenous carrier, probably two or more, but they have not revealed how many they intend to build, what the construction schedule will [be] or what their missions will be,” said a defense official familiar with intelligence assessments.

A second defense official said China regards aircraft carriers as key symbols of global power projection and is unlikely to build just two.

Other defense officials said assessments about the indigenous carriers are based on intelligence showing construction of the first indigenous carrier at the Changxing Island Shipyard in Shanghai.

The carrier appears in satellite photos to be similar in design to the Varyag, a Soviet-era carrier purchased by China that uses a sky-jump style takeoff ramp at the front of the ship.

What makes this article different is that it cites satellite photography showing construction of a carrier underway at Changxing Island Shipyard in Shanghai. With that little bit of detail, we will soon be seeing photos on Chinese BBS.

If there is enough evidence to spot construction of an aircraft carrier in satellite photography (assume Dock 3) – and furthermore tell how big the vessel will be based on those photos – that would suggest the aircraft carrier at Changxing Island Shipyard has been under construction for some time now. If we review the rumor mill and media reports, the likely start date for the entire carrier project was June 3, 2009, which celebrated the 144th anniversary of Jiangnan Shipyard. For those who are not familiar, it is part of Chinese culture to mark anniversaries in a special way to bring good fortune. That date was also when Chinese security at the shipyard increased drastically around Dock 3, and shortly after several new facilities around the dock were completed.

If we assume June 3, 2009 as the start date, that would put the carrier project at 26 months old now. Want to make a safe bet? Bet on the Chinese rumors that say 2 aircraft carriers in the water before 2015, because those well known rumor guys in China seem to consistently get things right the last few years. For those looking to know more, as odd as it may sound to an old analyst, it does appear the crowd souring intelligence developed on forums like SinoDefense.com is nearly as accurate and often more current than the information about Chinese naval activity one finds in the annual DoD PLAN report produced for Congress.

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