China's top shipbuilding firm released a photo on Wednesday of what is believed to be the country's first aircraft carrier equipped with an electromagnetic aircraft launch system, with Chinese military experts speculating that China will have three aircraft carriers in the near future.
With the new aircraft carrier in the center and the Liaoning and China's first domestically developed aircraft carrier Type 001A on either side, the photo shows battle groups at sea led by the three carriers as the backdrop at a meeting at the No.701 Research Institute of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), according to the company's WeChat account on Wednesday.
It is widely speculated that China is building its third aircraft carrier in Shanghai.
China's J-15 jet fighters and a new type of fixed wing early warning aircraft were on board the mysterious ship.
CSIC Chairman Hu Wenming visited the Wuhan-based institute on Tuesday and attended a meeting where the photo was shown, during which CSIC officials and experts discussed the development of China's surface vessels and submarines, according to the CSIC post.
The photo shows two carriers with jump-rack decks, but the mysterious carrier with a flat deck, which makes an electromagnetic aircraft launch system possible, Song Zongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Judging from the photo, the new aircraft carrier will have a displacement above 8 tons, and together with the Liaoning and Type 001A, China will soon have three aircraft carriers, a significant boost to the capabilities of the Chinese navy.
The Type 001A began sea tests in May, and the Liaoning was commissioned to the China's People's Liberation Army Navy in 2012.
Song added that judging from the size of the ship, the new aircraft carrier will continue to be conventionally powered rather than nuclear powered.
Three catapults on board show that the new ship will be able to launch aircraft faster and more frequently than the previous carriers, and therefore will possess stronger combat capabilities, Song noted.
CSIC is dubbed the "cradle of Chinese aircraft carriers."
The institute's former head Zhu Yingfu was the chief designer of China's aircraft carrier program, with Wu Xiaoguang, the institute's current head, as the program's deputy chief designer.
CSIC has designed and built, among many prominent naval vessels, the country's first domestically-built aircraft carrier, known as the Type 001A, and the company also disclosed in February its plan to build China's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier as part of planned weaponry upgrades for the Chinese Navy by 2025.
The Wechat post featuring the photo of the mysterious carrier was deleted by the CSIC later on Wednesday, and the CSIC has yet to confirm any details about the photo or carrier as of press time.
According to the CSIC official website, the chairman Hu said during Tuesday's meeting that test results shows that the CSIC has made new progress in terms of the development of a new type of vessel. However, there was no specific mention of an aircraft carrier.
China's offshore defense capability will be significantly enhanced with three aircraft carriers in active naval service, Zhang Junshe, a senior research fellow at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, told the Global Times.
The country can also better fulfill its international responsibility in the event of a global humanitarian relief effort, such as when there is a natural disaster, or an international convoy, Zhang added.