HONG KONG — New satellite images suggest China has begun work on its first indigenous aircraft carrier, according to a monitoring group.
Photos released Thursday by IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly appear to show what they described as an “unidentified hull in an advanced state of construction” in the northeastern city of Dalian.
While the publication stopped short of definitively stating that project was a new aircraft carrier, it noted that “the slow pace of assembly and outline suggests a military hull under construction.”
It also noted that the Dalian city dry dock where the keel had been laid was the sight of major refitting and repair of China’s first aircraft carrier — Liaoning — before it entered service in September 2012.
The Liaoning, a Soviet-era Kuznetsov-class carrier purchased from Ukraine in 1998, has served as a training ship for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), which is in the process of learning how to operate and integrate carrier-based activities into its operations.
Speculation over China's military build-up in the disputed South China Sea has created diplomatic tension in the region, where several nations including Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia lay claim to the islands.
Last month, IHS Jane's reported that China had completed construction of a two-mile runway on reclaimed land in the area.
Little is known about China’s carrier plans and ambitions, but in recent years it has developed fighter aircraft such as the Shenyang J-15.
The Pentagon’s 2015 White Paper on China’s military capabilities also noted that Beijing “continued to pursue an indigenous aircraft carrier program and could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years.”