China’s defense ministry has posted to its website for the first time pictures of its worst-kept military secret, the country’s first aircraft carrier (above), a refitted 1980s-era former Soviet carrier, the 58,500-ton Varyag, that China bought in 1998. The ministry has also talked about the vessel in public for the first time, though its spokesman didn’t add anything to what was already known. The vessel remains unrenamed and no date was given for the start of full sea trials. These, though, are expected to start imminently as the carrier is due to be brought into service next year, the year that China’s first batch of naval carrier pilots will graduate from the PLA’s Dalian Naval Academy. Online video of the carrier sailing under its own power in waters off Dalian, where the fitting out is being done, was posted back in January.
The spokesman also confirmed that the carrier was to be used for research and training, as has always been taken to be the case. As we noted last year, coming along behind are two 50,000-60,000-ton conventionally powered indigenous carriers being built in Shanghai with the first planned for launch in 2014. A nuclear powered carrier is scheduled to be launched by 2020. They will be warships of the line.
The pictures the ministry has posted are undated. There are four more here. The Google map below, also undated beyond this year, shows the vessel in the water in Dalian.
Footnote: The Varyag is not the first ex-Soviet aircraft carrier that China has purchased. It bought two others, in 1998 and 2000, that went into theme parks in Shenzhen and Tianjin respectively. It also bought an old World War II-era British carrier that London had sold on to Australia and which Beijing bought for scrap. (H/t to Caixin.)