Latest imagery suggests Chinese carrier under construction
Publication: Jane's Navy International
Author: Sean O'Connor, Indianopolis, Indiana; James Hardy, London
Last posted: 2015-Nov-13
Satellite imagery taken on 24 October shows the installation of a section of what could be a hangar deck to a hull that is being built in a drydock associated with China's carrier programme
The 42x16 m section has a cavity that is similar in size to the hangar deck on China's ex-Soviet Navy carrier Liaoning
The latest satellite imagery of a drydock at Dalian shipyard associated with China's aircraft carrier programmes suggests that a hull under construction is the country's first indigenous carrier.
Airbus Defence and Space imagery captured on 24 October shows construction work on the hull's upper decks that indicates the presence of a possible hangar deck.
IHS Jane's first reported on the construction of a possible aircraft carrier hull at Dalian in September. Prior to that date the hull in question was insufficiently complete to make any determination as to class or type.
The 24 October imagery shows a 42x16 m module installed atop the lower hull. The module is constructed of lower and upper decks supported by 16x8 m sections on either side, leaving an open space about 26 m wide in the centre. This corresponds with the 26 m width of the hangar deck found on Soviet carriers Admiral Kuznetsov and Liaoning (CV 16).
Liaoning (ex- Varyag ), a Kuznetsov (Orel) (Project 1143.5/6) class carrier, arrived at Dalian in March 2002 after being bought by China and towed through the Bosporus. It was moved to the same drydock for major refurbishment in 2009 before it went out on its first sea trials in 2011. It entered People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) service in 2012.
The imagery also shows that additional upper deck modules are being prepared for installation adjacent to the drydock. The modules lack upper decking, which is installed prior to attachment to the hull. Components for major hull modules are initially constructed within metal shops. Sliding assembly halls provide workspace for assembly of the modules prior to their movement to the drydock for installation on the hull.
Following the installation of upper deck modules and the completion of the unfinished bow section, the next phase of construction will likely be the installation of upper deck surfaces, at which point conclusive identification of the hull as an aircraft carrier will be possible.
Southeast of the drydock, a number of metal supporting braces have gradually been collected since construction began. These could serve to support overhanging flight deck sections as they are installed.
It is not yet certain that the ship under construction at Dalian is China's first indigenous aircraft carrier, although such an assertion is supported by the similarities to the Kuznetsov class in both construction and design, previous statements by Chinese Communist Party officials and PLAN officers that a construction programme is under way, and recent moves around the Dalian shipyard to deter and prevent filming and photography of the drydock in question.
As well as being heavily linked to China's carrier programme, Dalian constructs other surface combatants for the PLAN. The 24 October imagery of Dalian also shows a Type 052D destroyer under construction. This is the eighth Type 052D hull, and the first built outside Changxing-Jiangnan shipyard at Shanghai. While Dalian previously produced Type 051 series destroyers, inexperience with the Type 052D design or diversion of resources to the possible aircraft carrier construction programme may explain its lengthy assembly period.
Airbus Defence and Space imagery shows area of Dalian associated with the construction of a possible aircraft carrier. (CNES 2015, Distribution Airbus DS/2015 IHS)