- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Chinese navy is ratcheting up work on its newest aircraft carrier that defense experts say may be able to conduct full-scale air and sea combat operations on par with the United States and its allies in the Pacific.

Satellite images of the Jiangnan shipyard, released Tuesday by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank, show a dramatic uptick in construction aboard the carrier, which will be the third built by China.

The vessel, dubbed the “Type 002” by Chinese officials, is slightly smaller than American-class carriers that conduct strike group operations in waters of the Asia-Pacific region, according to Reuters report citing the imagery.

CSIS naval analyst Matthew Funaiole told the news agency it appears the vessel is China’s “third carrier, and if it is not, it’s hard to envisage what other large vessel it would be.”

Photos indicate that once complete, the vessel will be on par with France’s Charles DeGaulle-class carrier and others fielded by American allies in the region.

Beijing expects the vessel to be able to anchor a naval force the size of a carrier strike group and carry out operations including that include “support [of] additional fighter aircraft, fixed-wing early-warning aircraft, and more rapid flight operations,” CSIS analysts said in a report accompanying the release of the satellite images.

The report did not make a conclusion on whether the carrier will be nuclear powered, like its American or western counterparts.

The development comes days after the Pentagon released its annual assessment of Chinese military power. In the report, Defense Department analysts detailed for the first time Beijing’s efforts to expand its maritime operations beyond the Pacific region into the north Atlantic and Arctic.

Since last year, China has begun moving a number of icebreaker vessels into the Arctic region, while simultaneously creating a number of new, civilian-operated research station in Norway, Iceland and other critical waypoints in the high North Atlantic, Pentagon officials said.

The Pentagon assessment said Beijing’s strategy has called for the creation of a so-called “Polar Silk Road,” with China identifying itself as a “Near-Arctic State” that has vested interests in gaining access to the region’s natural resources and sea lines of communication.

The assessment said Beijing is already flooding the waters of the Arctic with a number of next-generation warships designed to operate in the region’s harsh conditions in an attempt to secure those much-sought-after resources and sea lanes.

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