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China's carrier embarks on sea trials

(Shanghai Daily)

08:48, August 11, 2011

After more than a decade in preparation, China's first aircraft carrier left a shipyard in Dalian yesterday morning to start her first sea trials.

The carrier bought from Ukraine in 1998, formerly the Varyag, was towed out from the port in northeast China's Liaoning Province by a tugboat.

The province's Marine Safety Administration set up a 13.25 nautical miles (24.5 kilometers) wide and 22 nautical miles long restricted area in China's Yellow Sea on Tuesday and there was speculation that it was for the carrier's maiden voyage.

The administration has banned other shipping from the area from 12am yesterday till 6pm on Sunday.

Military sources told Xinhua news agency that the first sea trials were in line with the schedule of the carrier's refitting project and would not take a long time.

After returning from the trials, the carrier would continue its refit and test work, Xinhua quoted the sources as saying.

The sea trials may take about two days, mainly to check the carrier's navigability, buoyancy and speed, said Zhang Yao, senior researcher of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies and an expert on aircraft carriers.

Further trials would check its radar and weapon systems as well as allow aircraft to take off and land, he said.

Military enthusiasts and tourists flocked to Dalian in hope of seeing the carrier before it set sail. However, dense fog prevented many people from seeing the vessel.

Xu Jian, a retired navy officer, said China deserved to have its own aircraft carrier. "Even countries like India and Thailand have carriers, let alone America and Russia. Why can't China?" he said.

Zhou Xiangling, a researcher with the Dalian Institute of Modern History, said the carrier's trip signified a new era for China's navy, an era that would place an emphasis on scientific research and training.

"It implies that China is able to make new contributions to maintaining global marine safety and peace," he said.

Senior Colonel Geng Yansheng, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said earlier this year that China would never change the defensive nature of its national defense policy.

The vessel, with a displacement of about 60,000 tons, was originally built by the former Soviet Union, which failed to complete the ship's construction before its collapse in 1991. Ukraine disarmed it and removed its engines before selling it to China.

The country has spent the best part of 10 years refurbishing the carrier to be used for scientific research, experiments and training.

It will take at least two years for further trials to make the carrier capable of battle effectiveness, said Yin Zhuo, a Chinese military expert.

Zhang said it would take about three years to train the carrier's crew and the pilots who will take off and land from the vessel.

The carrier will be capable of landing about 30 Chinese J-15 fighters and helicopters and have a crew of around 2,000.

In a league table of fighting capacity it would rank in the middle of the world's carriers, Zhang said.

The carrier shell was built in 1990s and its conventional engines limited its battle ability. Also, Zhang added, the aircraft will use a ski-jump for take-offs, instead of a catapult system, and that limited the jet fighters' weapon loads.

Nine top Chinese naval captains are to take command of the country's first aircraft carrier in turns, the International Herald Leader, a Beijing-based newspaper, reported previously. A naming ceremony will be held after the carrier's maiden voyage, the report said.

With the carrier complete, China becomes the last of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and the 10th country in the world to own an aircraft carrier.

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