Rumors of Beijing’s construction of a new aircraft carrier first surfaced back in February, and were confirmed in July by internal documents from the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation.
"The priority missions of building the aircraft carrier and nuclear-submarines have been carried out smoothly and with outstanding results," documents, published by Taiwanese media outlets, report.
New satellite imagery of Dalian shipyard in northern China shows the extent of that construction. Released on Sunday, the images show what appears to be the hull of an aircraft carrier under construction in a dry dock.
According to IHS Jane, the hull "is in an advanced state of assembly."
Based on the photographs, experts estimate the ship’s length to be roughly 787 feet, with a beam of nearly 114 feet.
China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was commissioned in 2012, and was a retrofitted ship from the Soviet Navy.
According to Wang Min, the Communist Party secretary of Liaoning Province, officials hope to complete construction of the new ship in 2020. Once operational, the aircraft carriers could greatly expand Beijing’s ability to defend territory beyond its borders.
"[China’s home-based carriers] would be capable of improved endurance and of carrying and launching more varied types of aircraft, including electronic warfare, early warning, and anti-submarine, thus increasing the potential striking power of a PLA Navy ‘carrier battle group’ in safeguarding China’s interest.." reads a Pentagon report.
In particular, the ships could be of use in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Beijing’s construction of artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago has led to an increased US presence in the region.
The ships could also allow Beijing to more effectively carry out humanitarian operations in the South China Sea.