“We expect China to build at least one indigenous carrier, probably two or more, but they have not revealed how many they intend to build, what the construction schedule will [be] or what their missions will be,” said a defense official familiar with intelligence assessments.
A second defense official said China regards aircraft carriers as key symbols of global power projection and is unlikely to build just two.
Other defense officials said assessments about the indigenous carriers are based on intelligence showing construction of the first indigenous carrier at the Changxing Island Shipyard in Shanghai.
The carrier appears in satellite photos to be similar in design to the Varyag, a Soviet-era carrier purchased by China that uses a sky-jump style takeoff ramp at the front of the ship.
The warships are adding to concerns among other Asian nations that fear Beijing will use the power projection platforms to take control of large areas of international waters, like those in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Yellow Sea — where China has claimed maritime sovereignty.
The Chinese military is engaged in a large-scale buildup that includes new strategic and conventional missiles, aircraft, anti-satellite weaponry and a new ballistic missile for targeting ships at sea.
China’s tightly controlled state media previously announced no plans for an aircraft carrier force. It had been anticipated since the 1990s when U.S. intelligence agencies detected Chinese jets practicing carrier deck-style takeoffs and landings at inland airfield.
China’s Defense Ministry has confirmed that it will soon begin conducting sea trials on the former Kuznetsov-class carrier called the Varyag, which was purchased several years ago under the guise of converting it into a floating casino.
Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday that the carrier is old and will be used for “scientific research, experiment and training.”View Entire Story
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Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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