China Starts Construction At Home Of Aircraft Carrier

TOKYO, Japan -- China has started construction of its first domestically made aircraft carrier, according to diplomatic and U.S. government sources.

The Varyag aircraft carrier.

China has set a national goal of building a stronger navy and aims to expand its maritime interests.

This year, China will likely begin test-sailing a midsize aircraft carrier - the Varyag - that it bought from Ukraine, the sources said.

When the domestic carrier is completed, the Chinese Navy will have two aircraft carriers in its fleet.

The addition will likely raise concerns in neighboring countries, including Japan, whose ties with China have been strained over the Senkaku Islands, and Vietnam and the Philippines, which have territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.

It will also shake up stability in the Asia-Pacific region, which has been primarily maintained by the United States' overwhelming military power.

In early June, Chen Bingde, the Chinese military's chief of the General Staff, told Hong Kong media that China was building an aircraft carrier, the first time a top officer of the Chinese military has acknowledged the fact.

But he did not clarify whether the carrier being constructed referred to the Varyag or the other carrier.

According to the diplomatic sources, another officer in the Chinese military said the Varyag cannot be called a domestically made carrier, and clearly stated that the carrier is another under construction in a different location.

A U.S. government official also said that Washington regards the carrier referred to as the one made in China.

Part of the U.S. Defense Department's 2010 annual report, titled "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China," said China will be able to operate two or more aircraft carriers in the coming 10 years.

Military sources close to developments in the Chinese Navy said the domestically made carrier is being constructed in a shipyard on Changxing Island in Shanghai.

The sources said the new carrier will likely be midsize, similar to the Varyag, and carry Jian-15 jet fighters, which China has just developed.

The fighters will likely take off from a ski jump-style flight deck as is done on the Varyag.

Though the new carrier is modeled after the Varyag, the military sources said it has great geopolitical significance, showing that China has acquired the technology to construct an aircraft carrier on its own.

Security around the shipyard on Changxing Island has increased significantly since the start of this year, which military sources attribute to the start of construction of the carrier.

According to military experts, even in the United States it takes at least five years from the start of construction of an aircraft carrier to its deployment.

Thus it is likely that China will need seven to eight years until the domestically made carrier can be put to use.

The experts also said China is constructing modern destroyers equipped with air-defense missiles to defend the carriers.

Source: The Sacramento Bee