China has confirmed that it's building an aircraft carrier that may be nuclear powered, according to a government document published Friday by the English version of the Global Times, a Chinese daily newspaper. If the carrier is built, it will mean China will have a total of two aircraft carriers, with another five aircraft carriers planned.
"The priority missions of building the aircraft carrier and nuclear submarines have been carried out smoothly and with outstanding achievements," the document states, according to a translation provided by Taiwanese media outlets.
China has long demonstrated its eagerness to manufacture its own aircraft carrier, hoping to build on the relative success of the second-hand ex-Soviet carrier it bought from Ukraine in 1998. While it took almost 15 years to refit and commission the vessel, working on the ex-Soviet Liaoning has been instructive and, as such, lays the groundwork for carriers China builds itself, beginning with the one currently under construction.
China will likely make all its domestically built aircraft carriers nuclear powered -- including the one under construction and the five planned. They would all be equipped with state-of-the-art electromagnetic catapults, Sputnik News reported earlier this week, citing an assessment by Vasily Kashin, an expert with the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Russian defense industry think tank. Kashin said that work was going smoothly.
The news of a Chinese-built carrier comes as no surprise to the country’s regional rivals, who see Beijing’s expanding seafaring reach as another tactic to tighten its grip on disputed islands in the region. The Liaoning and China's own custom aircraft carriers could be used to intimidate smaller countries as China seeks to use its growing navy to dominate the region and counter the U.S. pivot toward Asia, according to a report issued by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, based in Singapore.
A recent U.S. Department of Defense assessment of Chinese military power adds credence to the claims, saying that “China also continues to pursue an indigenous aircraft carrier program and could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years.”