China is close to launching new aircraft carrier, report says

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China is three to six months away from launching its third aircraft carrier, a report says, a move that would mark significant progress in President Xi Jinping’s drive to modernize his nation’s navy.

The Jiangnan Shipyard near Shanghai has made “steady progress this year on the vessel, known for now as Type 003, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in the report, which was dated Tuesday. The center, a Washington-based think tank, added that satellite imagery shows “that the installation of the carrier’s main external components is nearing completion.

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The ship’s use of catapults to launch jets “is a major leap forward for the People’s Liberation Army Navy, the report said, because it will be able “launch fixed-wing aircraft with heavier payloads and more fuel, as well as larger aircraft. China’s two current carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong, use simpler ski jump-style technology.

Xi has made revamping China’s armed forces a priority since coming to power nearly a decade ago. One of the nation’s main goals is to build a “blue water navy to project power well beyond its coasts and protect increasingly far-flung interests.

This move coincides with Beijing adopting a more assertive foreign policy, especially in the South China Sea, where earlier this year it deployed more ships in waters contested with the Philippines. China has also been escalating military and economic pressure on Taiwan, which it has threatened to take it by force if necessary.

The Type 003 is years away from going into active service considering “the technical challenges of building a modern aircraft carrier, according to the center report. It pointed to a US Department of Defense report that it would be fully operational by 2024.

The CSIS report added that satellite imagery indicates that work on other military vessels at the shipyard has slowed significantly in recent months.

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