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Exclusive: satellite images reveal Chinese aircraft carrier factory, analysts say



HONG KONG / BEIJING (Reuters) – High-resolution satellite images show that the construction of China's first authorized aircraft carrier is steadily progressing along with expanded infrastructure work, which analysts say will be the ship's first of several large ships produced at the object.

FILE PHOTO: Combined Image of Satellite Images Shows Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, China on October 3, 2018, April 17, 2019 and September 18, 2019. Mandatory Credit CSIS / ChinaPower / Maxar Technologies and Airbus 2019 / Share via REUTERS

Images of Jiangnan Shipyard outside Shanghai were taken last month and made available to Reuters by the non-partisan Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which is based on satellite images obtained in April and September last year.

Noting a series of pre-fabricated sections, bulkheads and other components stacked nearby, CSIS analysts say the hull should be completed within 12 months, after which it is likely to be relocated to a newly created port and port before to be installed,

The huge port at the mouth of the Yangtze River, including a port about 1 kilometer long and large buildings for the production of ship components, is almost complete. Much of the port area appears to have been abandoned arable land only a year ago, according to earlier analysis by CSIS.

It dwarfs an existing port nearby, where destroyers and other warships are located.

"We can see slow but steady progress on the hull, but I think the really surprising thing these images show is the widespread construction of infrastructure that goes on at the same time," says CSIS analyst Matthew Funaiole.

"It's hard to imagine that everything is done for just one ship," he added. "It looks more like a specialized space for carriers and or other larger vessels."

Singapore-based military analyst Colin Koch said a modern purpose built facility on a sparsely populated island in Yangtze could provide better security from congested Dalian shipyards in northern China. It could also help deepen cooperation between commercial and military shipyards.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies, based in London, noted this year that Chinese shipyards are increasingly focusing on larger warships, "adding to the feeling that China's naval capabilities could be in a new phase. "

The Chinese military has recently released four large Type 055 cruisers and its first large carrier helicopter known as Type 075.

The Chinese military has not formally announced plans for a third carrier designated 002, but oh official state media said it was under construction.

The Pentagon said in its annual study on China's military modernization, published in May, that work on the third carrier had begun.

The Ministry of Defense of China did not answer questions from Reuters.

Funaiole said that the latest images appear in confirmation of earlier photos, which suggest that the newest carrier will be a little less than 100,000 tonnes of supercars operated by the US, but larger than 42,500 tonnes French Charles de Gaulle.

The images should be published by the CSIS China Power Project later on Thursday.

The Asian and Western military are closely following the development. They say this carrier would be a vital step in China's ambitions to create a large-scale fleet to project power around the world to serve Beijing's expanding global interests.

A series of recent Reuters special reports have shown how these efforts have been a challenge for decades of US strategic superiority in East Asia.

(Click this link to read the series: here)

It is expected to be the first carrier in China with a flat deck and catapult launch system to allow a wider range of aircraft and heavier aircraft to be used armed fighters.

The first two carriers in China, which he called the 001-class type, are relatively small, accommodating only up to 25 aircraft, launching from ramps built on their decks. US carriers routinely have nearly four times the number of aircraft.

Foreign military attaches and security analysts say that Type 001 ships are expected to essentially serve as training platforms for what they believe will be a fleet of up to six operating carriers by 2030.

that the construction and deployment of aircraft carriers is considered extremely difficult to master. Protecting such a large and vital target surface with escort ships, submarines and aircraft is a major part of the problem.

Slideshow (4 images)

"The PLA Navy doesn't say much about their plans, but we see from their construction work that their ambitions are huge," said an Asian military attaché who refused to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. "And they will get there."

Koch, Research Fellow at the Singapore School of International Studies "S. Rajaratnam, "said the new facilities in Jiangnan look permanent and reflect China's longstanding ambition to build up its fleet with more carriers and other large vessels.

"We're talking about building infrastructure quickly and on a large scale. It is possible to start a factory, if you wish, for carriers and other very large ships, "he said.

Report by Greg Torode and Michael Martin. Editing by Gary Doyle

Our Standards: The Principles of Trust by Thomson Reuters.

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