25 September 2015

Sean O’Connor, IHS Jane’s: “China May Be Building First Indigenous Carrier”

Sean O’Connor, “China May Be Building First Indigenous Carrier,” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, 24 September 2015.

Click here to access set of five accompanying images offered by IHS Jane’s.

Airbus Defence and Space imagery shows an overview of Dalian shipyard in China. (CNES 2015, Distribution Airbus DS / 2015 IHS)

Airbus Defence and Space imagery shows an overview of Dalian shipyard in China. (CNES 2015, Distribution Airbus DS / 2015 IHS)

Key Points

  • An unidentified hull in an advanced state of construction at Dalian shipyard could be China’s first indigenous aircraft carrier
  • While a conclusive identification of the hull as an aircraft carrier cannot be made until work is observed on the upper decks and potential flight deck, the slow pace of assembly and outline suggests a military hull under construction

Satellite imagery suggests that China may be building its first aircraft carrier at Dalian shipyard in northern China. …

Airbus Defence and Space imagery captured on 22 September suggests that the possible carrier is under construction in the dry dock associated with the refit and repair of Liaoning (CV16), the Soviet-era Kuznetsov-class carrier acquired from Ukraine that is now in People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) service.

The new hull, first noted under construction in imagery captured on 10 March, is in an advanced state of assembly. … …

… Imagery from 22 September shows a lengthened aft section and expanded bow. The hull is currently assessed to have a length of about 240 m and a beam of about 35 m. The incomplete bow suggests a length of at least 270 m for the completed hull.

Given the incomplete nature of the upper decks, definitive identification of the Dalian hull as the first so-called ‘001A’ aircraft carrier is not possible. However, the dimensions of the visible object closely match the waterline measurements of 270×35 m for Liaoning. Furthermore, Kuznetsov underwent a similar assembly process at Nikolayev shipyard in the mid-1980s; a significant portion of the lower hull was completed before work began on the flight decks and island, resulting in an incomplete hull similar to that seen at Dalian on 22 September. …

Chinese media has previously reported that construction of the 001A aircraft carrier, an improved design based on Liaoning, began at Dalian shipyard in December 2013. Initial efforts likely centred on component preparation. Analysis of imagery captured at various points in 2014 revealed no outward evidence of hull assembly within a dry dock.

If not the 001A hull, the incomplete object possibly represents a new class of amphibious assault ship or helicopter carrier, as the comparatively slow pace of assembly suggests a military rather than commercial hull.

A significant degree of modular assembly employed in the production of large commercial hulls results in rapid completion times. The previous hull launched from the dry dock in question, a 330×60 m commercial vessel, took less than nine months to complete. Work on the comparatively smaller hull currently under assembly has been in progress for six months, the slower pace of work suggesting a more complicated internal layout than that of a simple commercial vessel. …