China's first domestically built aircraft carrier begins maiden sea trial

Xinhua News Agency shows China's aircraft carrier Liaoning at a shipyard in Dalian

It is the first time the ship's engine, propulsion and navigation systems will be tested at sea, state media said, a year after it first took to the water at its official launch.

The basic design for the new aircraft carrier is clearly modeled heavily on the Liaoning, including the signature ski-jump inclination at the front from which aircraft lift off.

Last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for the creation of a "first-class navy" at a major naval review held in the South China Sea.

It is China's second aircraft carrier following the purchase of the Soviet-built Liaoning from Ukraine in 1998. May 13, at the dawn of the warship left the dock for sea trials. The new vessel, by comparison, will focus on what a genuine aircraft carrier is supposed to do: run combat-ready patrols and safeguard the nation's maritime sovereignty and interests.

Although China's 2-million strong military is the largest in the world and its navy is also the biggest in terms of numbers of ships, its defense budget in 2018, though raised, is still only about one-quarter that of the United States.

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As of now the vessel remains a ship with no name and is presently referred to as Type 001A.

The new aircraft carrier is expected to be formally commissioned by 2020. Compared with Liaoning, the new carrier has more space on deck, can carry more fighter jets, and has a more advance radar system.

Between 2010 and 2017, the Chinese Navy increased its complement of ships from 210 to 320, Boston College professor of political science Robert Ross told CNN, including another 18 in 2016 alone.

According to sources from the Navy, several aspects on the new carrier are different from those on the Liaoning - the new ship's island (the towering section of the ship) is shorter than that of the Liaoning; it has three aircraft arresting wires (brakes) instead of four on the Liaoning; and the landing section is longer than the Liaoning's, among other differences.

"If you look at China's acquisitions of facilities in the Indian Ocean and in Eastern Africa, they're quickly developing the capability to maintain a naval presence in distant waters", Ross said. However, a source close to the navy said it was "too early to estimate" when it would be combat ready.

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