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China flexes muscle again, work underway for PLA's 3rd Aircraft Carrier

China's efforts to build up its naval capability is continuing; work on the third aircraft carrier for the PLA's (People's Liberation Army's) Navy is on in earnest. The Jiangnan naval shipyard in Shanghai has been expanded; a plot east of the shipyard has been taken over. Assembly areas and warehouses are being built since mid-2017. A block assembly area for the third carrier, south of the west basin was also readied, highly-placed defence sources said.

The assembly area is large, about 380m by 140m; two Gantry cranes were installed in March 2018 and a prefabricated block about 40m by 20m was first seen in July 2018. This was, of course, the first block of the third aircraft carrier. Two more modules of approximately the same side were joined to it towards the end of 2018. The composite module, 160m long, was moved to the west basin and dredging also picked up in June this year. It is clear that the module is going to be floated for transporting it to the dock. Defence sources speak of remarkably speedy construction work.

While this is going to be China's third aircraft carrier, it is the second to be domestically built. The first, the Liaoning, was purchased from Russia when it was partially built. The Liaoning, about 55,000 tons, was commissioned in 2012 and is called a training ship. The second carrier, completed in 2018, and somewhat larger than the Liaoning is currently undergoing sea trials. It is, of course, the first carrier the Chinese have built independently and can carry about 40 fighter aircraft.

For the Chinese, aircraft carriers were not a priority until recently. The American 'pivot' to the Indo-Pacific may have been only one reason for Beijing to alter its defence planning. The US Navy, the world leader in aircraft carriers, has 11 super-carriers, all of them nuclear-powered and several are under construction. India has one in service, the INS Vikramaditya, with another one under construction. There is the talk of a third, but a final decision is yet to be taken.

Three aircraft carriers translate into a lot of heft. It could mean additional pressure in the Indian Ocean in the future.

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