Leaked data, quickly deleted news stories, and a giant mockup of an aircraft carrier in an unspecified location in central China all indicate that Beijing is working towards building the country’s first indigenous aircraft carrier.
Satellite images on Google Maps indicate that Beijing has constructed a model aircraft carrier in Wuhan Province. The model is estimated at being 300 meters (984 feet) long and 80 meters (262 feet) wide. The model is complete with a helicopter landing pad and a model of a carrier-borne aircraft.
The mockup is likely to be used for the testing of communication systems aboard the carrier. The model may also be used for military training exercises, although the model may be too structurally weak to support the landing of actual aircraft on its deck.
Satellite images of the aircraft carrier coincide with the emergence, and subsequent deletion, of a number of local Chinese media reports related to the construction of a second aircraft carrier.
According to AFP, Chinese local media reported on how a company won a contract to supply the cabling necessary for the vessel’s construction. Late last year, another Chinese media story quoted Wang Min, the Communist Party secretary of Liaoning province, talking about how Beijing was expecting to have a second aircraft carrier by around 2020.
Both stories were promptly deleted from Chinese media after being posted.
The drive to develop an aircraft carrier is in keeping with Beijing’s general drive towards becoming its region’s military power. In addition to the carrier, China has been developing a new generation of anti-ship cruise missiles, guided missile naval destroyers, and ballistic missile submarines in an effort to more effectively project power away from the Chinese coastline.
China is locked in maritime disputes with both Japan in the East China Sea and Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea. To more effectively force its interests in the South China Sea, Beijing has begun the construction of a string of man-made islands that can be outfitted as military bases.
By having multiple aircraft carriers, China would be able to effectively projects its aerial power far away from its shores thereby further placing pressure on rival countries in the region.
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