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Satellite images suggest a new Chinese airline is about to launch

BANGKOK — China’s most advanced aircraft carrier to date appears to be nearing completion, satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press showed on Friday, as experts assumed the ship could be launched soon.

The newly developed Type 003 carrier has been under construction at the Jiangnan Shipyard northeast of Shanghai since 2018. Satellite images taken by Planet Labs PBC on May 31 indicate work on the ship is nearing completion.

The launch was long-awaited and represents what the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank called a “pioneering moment in China’s ongoing modernization efforts and a symbol of the country’s growing military might.”

CSIS noted in a report that China often ties military milestones to existing holidays and anniversaries. It suggested the ship could be launched as early as Friday to coincide with the national Dragon Boat Festival as well as the 157th anniversary of the founding of Jiangnan Shipyard.

The deck of the carrier can be clearly seen on the satellite images. In a picture taken through wispy clouds on Tuesday, equipment behind the carrier appears to have been removed, a step towards flooding the entire dry dock and floating the ship. Pictures earlier this month showed work in progress.

Cloud cover prevented Planet Labs satellites from capturing images of the shipyard Wednesday through Friday.

The Chinese Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the construction of China's Type 003 aircraft carrier at Jiangnan Shipyard, northeast of Shanghai, China, May 31, 2022.
This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the construction of China’s Type 003 aircraft carrier at Jiangnan Shipyard, northeast of Shanghai, China, May 31, 2022.
AP

Although no launch has been announced, the state-run newspaper Global Times published an article on Tuesday citing reports that it “could be launched soon”.

It added that the Chinese Navy released a promotional video about the country’s carrier program in April, “implying that the country’s third aircraft carrier will soon be officially unveiled.”

Although the US Department of Defense estimates that the launcher will not be fully operational until 2024 and will first have to undergo extensive sea trials, China’s launcher is the furthest advanced so far. As with its space program, China has been extremely cautious in developing aircraft carriers, trying to use only tried and perfected technology.

Its development is part of a broader modernization of the Chinese military, which is trying to expand its influence in the region. China already has the largest navy in the world in terms of number of ships, but nowhere near the capabilities of the US Navy.

Among other things, the US Navy remains the world leader in aircraft carriers, with its armed forces capable of fielding 11 nuclear-powered ships. The Navy also has nine amphibious assault ships that can also carry helicopters and vertical takeoff fighter aircraft.

Satellite image provided by Planet Labs PBC shows the construction of China's Type 003 aircraft carrier at the Jiangnan Shipyard, northeast of Shanghai, China, Tuesday, May 31, 2022.
Satellite image provided by Planet Labs PBC shows the construction of China’s Type 003 aircraft carrier at the Jiangnan Shipyard, northeast of Shanghai, China, Tuesday, May 31, 2022.
AP

The expected launch of the new Chinese airline comes as the US has increased its focus on the region, including the South China Sea. The vast oceanic region is strained as six governments claim all or part of the strategically important waterway that carries an estimated $5 trillion in global trade each year and carries rich but rapidly declining fish stocks and significant underwater oil and gas deposits holds.

China has been by far the most aggressive in enforcing its claim to virtually all of the waterway, its island features and resources.

The US Navy has sailed warships past Chinese-held man-made islands in the sea equipped with airstrips and other military installations. China insists its territory extends to these islands, while the Navy says it conducts missions there to ensure the free flow of international trade.

Once primarily a coastal force, China’s navy has expanded its presence to the Indian Ocean, western Pacific and beyond in recent years, establishing its first overseas base in the African horn nation of Djibouti in the last decade, where the US, Japan and others also maintain a military presence.

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the construction of China's Type 003 aircraft carrier at Jiangnan Shipyard, northeast of Shanghai, China, May 8, 2022.
This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the construction of China’s Type 003 aircraft carrier at Jiangnan Shipyard, northeast of Shanghai, China, May 8, 2022.
AP

The airline is China’s second domestically developed airline, following a Type 002 ship currently undergoing sea trials. Its other carrier is a modified ex-Soviet ship bought as a hulk from Ukraine and refurbished over several years as an experimental platform that still offers considerable combat capabilities with Chinese-built single-wing fighters developed from the Russian Su-33 .

As well as being the largest of its three carriers, the new Type 003 class will also be equipped with a catapult launch system that will “allow it to support additional combat aircraft, fixed-wing early warning aircraft and faster flight operations, thus expanding range and effectiveness.” its carrier-based warplanes,” the US Department of Defense said in its annual report to Congress on China’s military in November.

“Especially the PRC [People’s Republic of China’s] Aircraft carriers and planned successor carriers, once operational, will expand air defense coverage beyond the range of coastal and shipborne missile systems and enable task group operations at ever-longer ranges,” the Defense Ministry said, adding that the Chinese Navy “are surfacing the requirement.” after sea-based land attack systems will also improve the PRC’s ability to project power.”

China’s existing aircraft carriers weigh about half as much as the US Nimitz-class flattops and displace about 100,000 tons when fully laden.

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the construction of China's Type 003 aircraft carrier at the Jiangnan Shipyard northeast of Shanghai, China, May 21, 2022. China's most advanced aircraft carrier to date appears nearing completion, satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press showed on Friday June 3, when experts suggested the ship could be launched soon.
This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the construction of China’s Type 003 aircraft carrier at the Jiangnan Shipyard northeast of Shanghai, China, May 21, 2022. China’s most advanced aircraft carrier to date appears nearing completion, satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press showed on Friday June 3, when experts suggested the ship could be launched soon.
AP

Experts from Washington-based CSIS, which has overseen construction for years, said in an analysis of various satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies on Thursday that a smaller ship had been pushed out of the carrier’s path and that water is filling now partially part of the dry dock.

But they said more work needed to be done before the ship could leave dock.

“The stairways that workers use to get onto the carrier — as well as the support structures and other equipment surrounding the ship — must be removed,” CSIS said. “The caisson, which segments the dry dock and allows for simultaneous work on multiple vessels, will also be opened to allow the entire dry dock to be filled with water.”

The Wall Street Journal first published the ship’s Maxar images from the CSIS analysis.

https://nypost.com/2022/06/03/satellite-images-suggest-new-chinese-carrier-close-to-launch/ Satellite images suggest a new Chinese airline is about to launch

JACLYN DIAZ

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