New photos released by private satellite imaging firm Maxar Technologies show China’s Type 001A aircraft carrier docked alone at Hainan’s Yulin Naval Base with a flight deck full of aircraft ready to go. The ship embarked from Dalian on its latest sea trials on November 14, which the People’s Liberation Army Navy undoubted hopes will be the ship’s last round of tests.
The images show seven Shenyang J-15 fighter jets on the flight deck, as well as four Changhe Z-18 helicopters with their blades folded and stowed in a travel posture.
However, it wasn’t just US intelligence-linked satellite firms that noticed the big warship near Hainan: when the PLAN parked the Type 001A just off the coast, vacationers at the beach resorts in Sanya noticed, too, posting photos and videos on social media earlier this week.
China parks its 2nd aircraft carrier by tourist beach of Sanya, Hainan Island. Just in case US Navy littoral combat ships send to ‘bolster attack strength in South China Sea’ get rammed and beached...pic.twitter.com/JFCzASDo8D— Carl Zha (@CarlZha) November 20, 2019
The Type 001A, China’s first indigenously produced aircraft carrier, was expected to join the fleet earlier this year, but encountered “teething issues” requiring more testing before being accepted by the PLAN for service.
‘No Need to Make Such Noise’
Earlier this week, Beijing put out a notice for other navies, including the US and Japanese forces, not to interfere with its planned drills.
“I want to note that a detachment of Chinese warships conducted regular exercises at the country’s doorstep, and that there is no need to make such noise about it,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reported on Monday.
Sina Military noted the Type 001A was accompanied by six frigates as it transited the Taiwan Strait, a volatile waterway that separates the self-governing Taiwan from mainland China, which regards Taiwan as a rebellious province of the People’s Republic. When the communist Red Army won the civil war in 1949, the former Republican government only remained in power in Taiwan, which was out of reach of the Red Army at the time. Today, Taiwan enjoys de facto support from the US and many of its allies, although Washington officially recognizes the One China policy.
Taiwan News reported the Type 001A’s visit to Hainan, likely the last before it’s commissioned, is symbolic of its future name: “Hainan.” However, other sources have reported the warship may be named “Shandong.” The PLAN’s first carrier, a derelict, Soviet Kuznetsov-class ship it bought, repaired and completed, was also named after a Chinese province: “Liaoning.”
China’s third aircraft carrier, dubbed Type 002, is currently being constructed in a shipyard in Shanghai. Recent satellite images show the drydock sits before a much larger naval dock under construction. The ship is expected to be completed by the end of next year and to sport a host of new features not seen in either of the PLAN’s present carriers, such as electromagnetic catapults and a flat flight deck.
US Navy’s FONOPS
Earlier this week, the US Navy conducted two consecutive “freedom of navigation operations” or FONOPS, during which it sends warships through volatile sea lanes in a brazen display of antipathy for other nations’ sovereignty claims over the waterways.
On Wednesday, the littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords sailed just 12 miles away from Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, and the following day, the guided missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer passed near the Paracel Islands, US Seventh Fleet spokesperson Cmdr. Reann Mommsen told Stars and Stripes. China claims both island chains as well as several other dots of land in the South China Sea - claims that overlap with several other nations who also want a piece of the rich hydrocarbon deposits believed to lie below the seafloor.
Sputnik reported previously that the Giffords was deployed to the region armed with the US Navy’s newest long-range anti-ship missile, the Norwegian-made Naval Strike Missile, in a bid to challenge the PLAN’s long-range missile supremacy.
Geng protested the transit in a Friday statement, saying the US must “put a stop to such provocations immediately. China will resort to every measure necessary to safeguard national sovereignty and security, and to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
In September, satellite images appeared on Chinese social media purporting to show the US Navy’s USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier based in Yokosuka, Japan, surrounded by Chinese warships in the South China Sea. No representatives from either country confirmed the authenticity of the images or the account, but none denied it, either, Sputnik reported.
This story was corrected to reflect that the Naval Strike Missile is manufactured by a Norwegian company (Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace) and not a Swedish one.