On Thursday, China formally announced the project concerning its second aircraft carrier. The official confirmation follows months of conjecture regarding the same; defense experts the world over have long-awaited Beijing’s statement regarding adding a second aircraft carrier to its fleet.

US Fleet South China Sea

China Confirms Second Aircraft Carrier

Beijing has released a statement confirming that the Chinese military is working on its second aircraft carrier. The announcement was made by Yang Yujun, a spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China.

Speculation on the matter has been doing the rounds for several months now. Chinese media as well as publications abroad have repeatedly carried satellite images as well as photographs that appear to map the construction team’s progress on the project. Military experts and security analysts have written and commented extensively regarding the possibility of China pursuing greater military advancement in the form of building its own naval vessels.

Speaking about the new aircraft carrier, spokesperson Yang Yujun said, “China has a long coast line and a vast maritime area under our jurisdiction. To safeguard our maritime sovereignty, interests and rights is the sacred mission of the Chinese armed forces.”

The finished aircraft carrier will boost China’s existing fleet and will supplement its current carrier, the Liaoning. The Liaoning is a second-hand vessel that China purchased from Ukraine in 1998 and refitted locally, before commissioning it into the People’s Liberation Army Navy Surface Force. China has long held an interest in building its own indigenous carrier and the Liaoning is essentially intended for use as a training vessel to help the PLAN forces gain expertise in operating aircraft carriers.

Defence experts are of the opinion that being able to optimize the Liaoning’s potential is the key to China being able to deploy its indigenous carrier vessels by 2020. The vessel has featured in China’s military drills but is yet to achieve complete operational status.

Responding to a question about whether China is considering adding a third aircraft carrier to its fleet, Yang Yujun stated that the “relevant authorities” will base decisions about future carriers after taking several important considerations into account.

The news of China’s second aircraft carrier comes a week after the Chinese military announced that it had made a “key breakthrough” with regard to the Liaoning. The development reportedly marks the military’s ability to move from testing to actually being able to deploy ship-borne aircraft from the vessel. The progress was announced in conjunction with the Chinese navy chief’s visit last week.

China’s New Carrier A Closely Guarded Secret

China’s military aircraft carrier program is classified as a state secret, and details pertaining to the same are rarely publicized. Not very much is known about China’s new carrier at this point, though the ministry’s spokesperson has shared that the new design is based on the knowledge China has gleaned off of its experiences with using the Liaoning.

Powered with the usual systems, the new carrier boasts a displacement of 50,000 tons and is equipped to run the Shenyang J-15 fighter. In contrast to the Liaoning, which weighs in at 60,000 tons, the newer vessel will also be outfitted with a ski-jump takeoff.

The ministry has not commented on when the new carrier craft is expected to be formally inducted into operational service. The Chinese official only stated that the timeline will be decided by the rate at which the designing and construction proceed.

China Reportedly Commissioned Carrier For South China Sea

Security analysts believe that the decision to build a new aircraft carrier is at least partly motivated by China’s interest in the South China Sea. Defence experts believe that China has decided to step up its military game in order to be able to better defend its ambitions in the region.

A naval specialist working out of Shanghai has shared, on the condition of anonymity, that the mounting tensions in the South China Sea dispute have convinced Beijing to augment its fleet. Reuters quotes the source explaining China’s motivation behind building a stronger navy: “The U.S. has many aircraft carriers that are traveling all over the place in the South China Sea, which has caused problems for us”. “Having a second aircraft carrier reduces the pressure on us. It will keep us from being bullied.”

Beijing’s announcement appears to be in line with the Pentagon’s assessment that China possesses the capacity to construct and deploy a number of aircraft carriers in the coming 15 years. The Defence Ministry of Taiwan also commented on the matter in September, claiming that China is presently constructing two new aircraft carriers that resemble the Liaoning in terms of size.

The news of the new vessel is expected to add to an already-tense situation, as far as the South China Sea is concerned. The dispute is responsible for an extremely volatile atmosphere in Southeast Asia, with six countries- Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam- fighting for control and sovereign territorial rights over the sea.

The other disputants, as well as international observers such as the U.S., have voiced the concern that China is militarizing the South China Sea at an alarming rate. Beijing, however, maintains that it intends to solve the dispute using peaceful means. China has criticized the American military presence in the region and has blamed the U.S. for militarizing the setting and transforming a regional dispute into an international issue. Beijing maintains that the dispute must be discussed and resolved only by the parties directly involved and has criticized all international interest and involvement in the matter.