China launched its largest and most cutting-edge aircraft carrier Friday, according to state broadcaster CCTV, the first domestically designed and built vessel of its kind.
In a ribbon-cutting ceremony held at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, officials unveiled the Type 003 warship. The Fujian -- which, according to officials cited in state media, would not be battle-ready for five years -- is an important milestone in Beijing's ambitions to develop a "blue water" navy, capable of projecting power far beyond its shores.
The carrier has been the focus of interest among military observers and rival nations tracking the development of China's navy. China's first two carriers include a retrofit of an old Soviet model, the Liaoning, bought from Ukraine in 1998, and the Shandong, which was built in China but based on the Liaoning model and commissioned in 2019.
It is the first Chinese carrier to be equipped with an electromagnetic catapult for launching aircraft, including those with a heavier payload, faster and more efficiently. The technology leapfrogs the "ski jump" configuration for launching jets via a ramp at the end of a runway used on China's other two carriers.
"The Fujian brings a whole new level of capability to the table compared to the Liaoning and Shandong," said Collin Koh, an expert on the People's Liberation Army Navy at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
While Chinese military analysts and blogs have hailed the carrier as "China's answer to the USS Gerald R. Ford," commissioned in 2017, much of its capabilities are still unknown. The Ford was the world's largest and most advanced carrier when it was built.
"There's extremely scant info emanating on the Fujian and, for that matter, the PLA [People's Liberation Army] Navy's carrier program. The exact capabilities and their performance are shrouded in much secrecy," Koh said.
The launch of China's most advanced carrier comes amid increased tensions in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, where China and its neighbors have competing territorial claims. The recent signing of a security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands and the unveiling of a naval facility in Cambodia have raised further concerns about Beijing's reach into Gulf of Thailand and the South Pacific.
Information for this article was contributed Lyric Li and Vic Chiang of The Washington Post.