Satellite Images May Show China’s First Domestic Aircraft Carrier

Airbus Defence and Space imagery shows the unidentified Dalian hull progressing through construction. (Image courtesy CNES | Airbus DS | IHS)

Newly released commercial satellite imagery appears to show construction of China’s first domestic aircraft carrier.

Imagery captured on Sept. 22 by Airbus Defense satellites and released on Thursday by IHS Jane’s indicates China may be building its first aircraft carrier at Dalian shipyard in northern China, according to a report from Jane’s.

The work is taking place in the same dry dock associated with the refit and repair of Liaoning (CV16), the Soviet-era Kuznetsov-class carrier acquired from Ukraine that is now in service with the People’s Liberation Army Navy, according to the report by Sean O’Connor, a satellite imagery analyst at IHS Jane’s, and James Hardy, Asia Pacific Editor at IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly.

The hull, which was first spotted under construction in imagery captured on March 10, “is in an advanced state of assembly,” they wrote.

“Given the incomplete nature of the upper decks, definitive identification of the Dalian hull as the first so-called ‘001A’ aircraft carrier is not possible,” the authors wrote. “If not the 001A hull, the incomplete object possibly represents a new class of amphibious assault ship or helicopter carrier, as the comparatively slow pace of assembly suggests a military rather than commercial hull.”

Chinese navy ships last month were spotted off the coast of Alaska for the first time. The discovery came the same week China held a massive military parade in Beijing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender during World War II — and highlights its ambition to become a global military power.

The Pentagon last week also confirmed that Chinese fighter jets recently made an “unsafe” interception of an American spy plane in the Asia-Pacific region. A pair of JH-7 fighter-bombers, known in NATO parlance as Flounders, from the People’s Liberation Army came within 500 feet of an RC-135 from the U.S. Air Force last week over the Yellow Sea.


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Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • anomyous coward

    First and foremost before the 1000 grains of sand add their two Yauns to the mix, Sean O’Connor is a master at OSINT. He is a well known contributor to the cause and highly skilled in analysis.

    Second, due to the nature of China’s policies in regards to the South China Sea, it would only make sense for them to want a carrier of their own (and not soviet scrap) to help bolster their naval aviation. Whereas the reclaimed islands are only as good as the first US bombing runs, a carrier task group allows for maneuverability.

    Third, the Dalian ship yard could have gotten experience and tooling SOP while working on the retrofit before working on the 001A hull. This would make it ideal for the same shipyard to work on the new hull.

    • blight_asdf

      The other alternative would be to convert tanker hulls into primitive carriers, then use them for training the crews while working out the next set of clean sheet carrier designs. That or PLAAN is going for one or two for each iteration of a carrier class?

    • CMSgt

      You can have all the CV’s you want. Until they learn under replenishment, you have one foot in a bucket. The Chinese navy has ZERO history in carrier operations, this is not something you can learn from “CV’s for dummies” book. It takes years to master those skills. All they have is a great big target.

      • Robbie

        Years? Try half a century and a world war of experience. But you’re right, it’s not just the carrier, it’s also the air wing, underway replenishment vessels, air and undersea defense escort vessels, submarines, global secure C3I, etc. It’s tens of billions of dollars just to float a single battle group in the face of ten-fold USN opposition. I’m very happy the Chinese are blowing huge bucks for such a marginal increase in military power.

      • shooi dan tom

        You are exactly right, my dearest Sgt. Wouldn t you agree we Chinese have to
        start somewhere. And we are working on it. We are trying. We are not just sitting there waiting for help and handout from white people. We are learning from everyone s past. Our ultimate goal is defend ourselves all over. Thank you
        for your encouragement.

      • Leon Suchorski

        That sounds like the same attitude that people had about the Japanese before WWII.

      • Tad

        Which is exactly what the US started with. Give the Chinese navy 5 more years and they will likely surprise to the upside.

  • Robbie

    Excellent. It’s great that the Chinese will apparently invest tens of billions of dollars in a hugely expensive carrier group rather than buying an even larger asymmetrical missile force they’ve focused on to date. Nothing that floats can compete with the USN, so it’s good news that the Chinese may have made a strategic military error.

  • shooi dan tom

    Palestine. The Middle East. Please read the newspapers. China was invaded by
    Portugal, Britain, Russia, Japan, Germany, France……

  • Charles

    This isn’t news. This came out months ago…

  • Spartan

    Not a carrier.

  • Leon Suchorski

    The only reason that the Chinese are building a carrier of their own, is that the Ukraine shipyard can not do it for them right now.

    • blight_asdf

      The Ukranians wouldn’t mind the shipbuilding business if the Chinese placed an order…though China is best served learning how to build its own ships, for its own needs.

  • Dfens

    That reminds me, I’ve got to go to WalMart!

  • virgil cuttaway

    And Obummer is busy thinking of ways to further erode our military capability and giving more and more away through social programs.

    • Lightingguy

      When you are getting that Social Security check and visiting a doctor on Medicare, remind yourself that it’s the other folks in Congress that don’t want you having all those perks.

  • Joe Sovereign

    Aircraft Carriers are 20th Century Technology and are as obsolete as Battleships were in World War II. If China can take out US Aircraft Carriers, which they could today and will be able to more easily every year going forward. A Chinese Aircraft Carrier is going to be a sitting duck against US technology. If China wants an Aircraft Carrier for prestige or to go and threaten third world countries, so be it. It means very little to the US except China is making the same mistake the US is by making 14 Billion Dollar boats that will be at the bottom of the Ocean 48 hours after the start of a peer Naval engagement.

    • Docsenko

      Actually, US Carriers have a better chance to survive an exchange. It has several defensive capabilities not counting the battle group itself. We sell to many nations short and this has hurt us in the past. I believe this will be a top of the line carrier. China like the Russians have more missiles, guns and the like than our ships. It has already been stated we are losing the tech advantage we have. Congress and the WH are too foolish to see this.

  • John

    Let’s see 4 Iowa class battleships getting refits for nuclear power plants, then we can confront the Russian Mediterranean Fleet, now based in Syria. Scape those LCS wreaks and build more Arleigh Burke Destroyers.