BEIJING — Bedecked with colorful giant streamers and fluttering red flags, China launched its first homemade aircraft carrier Wednesday in a ceremony shown nationwide.
The carrier was transferred from dry dock into the water at the port city of Dalian, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. The warship designed to accommodate up to 36 fighter jets is a source of great pride for many Chinese, and marks the country's entry into the elite group of countries including Russia and the U.S. to have built one of the massive warships.
"It symbolizes the rise of China, which will also boost China's ability in dealing with territorial disputes," Nankai University military expert Sun Haidong told NBC News. Beijing is locked in disagreements with its neighbors over who controls the South China Sea.
It will be China's second aircraft carrier, joining an existing one commissioned in 2012 which was refurbished out of a Soviet vessel bought from Ukraine.
Both carriers use conventional steam power.
After a few years of testing and training, the new aircraft carrier is projected to enter full service in 2020.
China is reportedly building its third aircraft carrier in Shanghai, which will look more like a U.S. aircraft carrier, according to Chinese experts.
State-run Global Times newspaper quoted a Chinese navy researcher as saying that China will need "at least five to six aircraft carriers ... in order to protect China's territories and overseas interests."
China will need "two carrier strike groups in the West Pacific and two in the Indian Ocean," the researcher Yin Zhuo told the newspaper.
In comparison, the United States Navy currently maintains a fleet of 10 nuclear-powered supercarriers that are much bigger than any Chinese counterpart. President Donald Trump has vowed to boost that number to 12.