China Launches First Domestically Built Aircraft Carrier

New Carrier Continues Expansion of Chinese Expeditionary Capability.

China launched its first domestically produced aircraft carrier earlier for sea trials this week at the northeastern port of Dalian, in the south of Liaoning Province, China. The new ship has not been named yet and carries the temporary designation “Type 001A”.

The new Type 001A is a slightly larger vessel than China’s previous aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, that was purchased from Ukraine in 1999 and originally built in 1985 in the then-Soviet Union as a Kuznetsov-class aircraft cruiser. Liaoning has had three names: first christened as the Riga under Soviet use, then renamed the Varyag and finally the Liaoning after the Chinese purchase in 1999. Analysts report the primary role of the Liaoning has been a training vessel for the development of Chinese carrier doctrine and operations.

The new Type 001A is 315 meters long and 75 meters wide as compared to the slightly smaller Liaoning that is 304 meters long and 70 meters wide. Both ships displace roughly 50,000 tons, significantly less than the Nimitz-class carriers with a loaded displacement of between 100,000–104,000 tons. The U.S. Nimitz-class carriers are also longer at 333 meters.

Like the older Soviet-era carriers and the existing Russian Kuznetsov carrier along with the United Kingdom’s new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, the new Chinese Type 001A uses a ski-jump style launch ramp. India is also building a new ski-jump aircraft carrier, the Vikrant class carrier, formerly known as the “Project 71 Air Defense Ship” (ADS) or Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) program.

Unlike the other carriers however, the UK’s Queen Elizabeth class uses two superstructures and may have a provision for the removal of the ski-jump launch structure in favor of an electromagnetic catapult in the future.

The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) is an emerging technology in new aircraft carriers. The U.S. has already demonstrated and installed the EMALS launch capability on the new Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carrier in service since 2017. China is considering the use of electromagnetic launch systems on their planned next generation aircraft carrier, the Type 002. China has reportedly already experimented with aircraft modified to be launched with an electromagnetic catapult in anticipation of the next-gen Type 002 development.

One reason China may be pursuing the EMALS launch system for future carriers could be an inherent limitation to their current launch system. According to intelligence outlet the Chinese are currently limited in launch weight with their existing Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) system. That means China’s J-15 tactical aircraft already tested on the carrier Liaoning are limited in take-off weight. The aircraft must sacrifice fuel and/or weapons load to get airborne from the short take-off ski jump ramp. China will develop a new combat aircraft to fly from the decks of their planned Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) aircraft carrier.

China launched their first domestically produced aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, on Sunday. (Photo: AP/China)

Earlier this week an unnamed source told the Navy Times that the first trial of China’s new Type 001A, “May just involve turning a circle in Bohai Bay, making sure every deck under the water does not suffer leaks. Safety is still the top priority of the maiden trial. If no leaks are found, the carrier may sail farther to make it a longer voyage, probably two or three days.”

While China’s progress in aircraft carrier technology has been moving forward rapidly the testing protocols for the new Type 001A suggest a cautious approach to the program. One certainty is that China’s massive investment its aircraft carrier program confirms their ambitions to project security for its national interests and the interests of its allies well beyond its coastline.

Top image: China’s current flight operations onboard their carriers are limited in take-off weight by their deck design. (Photo: via

About Tom Demerly
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on,, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.


  1. Watch – all the fools who say U.S. aircraft carriers are sitting ducks are now gonna come out and praise the hell out of this trash-hauling PLAN CV. All it is is a target for U.S. SSNs and air assets from both far superior USN CVNs and USAF fighters and bombers.

    American carriers rule the high-seas, and that FACT ain’t gonna be a’changin’ for a very looong time. Especially with F-35C launching off our flattop’s (not curve-tops) decks. Let’s see if the PLA can stop our carrier battle groups from sailing through the SCS. I dare them to try!

  2. Nice carrier, the problem is that the aircrafts have to take off from positions 1 and 2 with only 40% fuel if they have 100% of AA ordnance; or more fuel and reduced missiles quantity

  3. China’s pursuit of aircraft carriers is often either dismissed as a Cold War relic or hyped as a dire threat to the United States and all we hold dear. People tend to get emotional whenever Chinese military technology is concerned and I wish they wouldn’t because it does nothing to contribute to the discussion.

    The truth about the Type 001A is that it represents two key advances for the Chinese military – it shows that their shipbuilding has reached the stage where turning out large vessels like the Type 001A is not much of an issue and it increases their power projection. On this second point I would like to remind folks that while it is often – and with much glee – pointed out that the ski ramp limits the fuel and/or payload that Chinese J-15’s can carry during takeoff, this doesn’t mean Chinese power projection has not increased. After all, the Type 001A has a range of upwards of 8500 nmi., which in effect puts those J-15’s several hundred if not a few thousand miles closer to their target.

    Another thing that most people ignore when discussing the obsolescence of aircraft carriers is that first off, a lot of those people are American, not Chinese. The reason for this ranges from hysteria to emotion to harboring the ulterior motive of trying to get the Pentagon to spend hundreds of billions of dollars more looking for the next best thing. But as the Chinese have been openly and enthusiastically pursuing carriers, the notion that they were the ones who said carriers are obsolete is nothing more than projection.

    Secondly, China made it its job to either deter or defeat AMERICAN carriers, not their own. Note that they have not been exporting their ASBM’s, one of the linchpins of their A2/AD strategy. The US thus far lags behind in this arena, mainly due to the INF.

    As such, nations such as Japan, Vietnam, and even the United States lack the means to counter aircraft carriers with as broad a spectrum of countermeasures as China can muster. I’m not saying we can’t hit it, I’m saying we can’t hit it with as much variety. But as defenses tend to be keyed towards specific threats, variety isn’t the spice of life in this case but rather the potential ending of it.

    All told, it is not the ship itself that represents a dire threat to the US or its allies, but the fact that China went from being technologically, economically, and financially irrelevant to building aircraft carriers in the short span of two decades. And we’re not talking about the long-suffering IAC program that India is currently muddling through. The Type 001A was laid down, built, and launched for trials in roughly five years. By contrast, the Gerald R Ford was laid down, built, and launched in four.

    So when people say China will conquer the seas or it’s nothing more than a trash hauling barge, they miss the point. The point is not how old the technology is or how many planes it can carry – the point is that it got built and can carry planes, two achievements that not many other nations on Earth can claim the capability for.

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