• The launch will coincide with the Dragon Boat Festival
  • There is no official statement in this regard yet 
  • The launch planned for April got delayed due to COVID

China has cleared the docks at a shipyard in Shanghai, reportedly for the much-anticipated launch of its third aircraft carrier. The vessel, Type 003, is said to be under construction in the Jiangnan Shipyard on Changxing Island.

A notice issued by the Maritime Safety Administration last Friday said the No 3 and No 4 docks of the shipyard are being cleared for an operation involving five large vessels. The operation carried out Monday involved five platforms, three tugboats and two salvage ships.

Though no official statement has been made about the carrier yet, speculations are rife that the clearing operation appeared designed to prepare the way for the launch Friday, reported South China Morning Post.

Chinese military sources said the launch of the Type 003 vessel will coincide with the Dragon Boat Festival. Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie told the news outlet that this Friday would be a "good day for the birth of the "third child." "Third child" is a nickname used by Chinese social media for the carrier.

"It implies the vessel is the country’s dragon boat – a good blessing," he said. He added that "time was precious" for the aircraft carrier. "The installation of all of the weapon systems and the activation of its propulsion system will only start after the hull is proven to have no leaks once it goes into the water," he added.

Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at the Taiwanese Naval Academy, too thinks the clearing was done for the launch. "The latest satellite imagery shows Type 003 had been blocked by a huge ship segment – this was done so that passing commercial ships couldn’t see the construction progress," Lu told South China Morning Post.

He added that the segment will have to be moved so that they can launch the Type 003 by sliding it into the water. "The launch would mean the construction work in the dry dock has been completed and it would next go through tests and equipment installation based on sea trials," he added.

The report, quoting military sources, said the warship needs to go into sea trials as soon as possible, and it may take several years to achieve initial operational capability.

The PLA's initial plan was to launch the Type 003 on April 23, to mark the 73rd anniversary of the PLA Navy, but it was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic in Shanghai. Since late April, nearly 4,000 people had been working on the aircraft carrier.

China's first carrier, Liaoning, was launched in 2012, while Shandong, the second aircraft carrier, was commissioned into the PLA Navy in December 2019. Unlike the first two, the third carrier is equipped with an advanced electromagnetic catapult launch system.

china aircraft carrier
China's first aircraft carrier Liaoning aircraft carrier arrives on July 7, 2017 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Getty Images/Keith Tsuji