Several developments in recent weeks point towards China’s efforts to expand the seaborne aviation capability of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). The PLAN is seeking to procure amphibious assault ships with significant aviation capability, are finishing construction on the world’s largest aircraft carrier dock, while speculation is mounting over a possible new aircraft carrier training facility and photos have emerged of construction of China’s first indigenous aircraft carrier. Currently the PLAN operates a singleton aircraft carrier which is a refitted Soviet-era ship. Now though, it would seem that China is rapidly moving to enhance its aviation capabilities which would provide a significant boost in the South China Sea dispute and elsewhere.
New Aircraft Carrier Base
According to an article in the August issue of Kanwa Defence Review, a Canada based military affairs magazine that focuses on East Asian security, defense, diplomacy, and weapons technology development issues, the PLAN finished basic construction of a new aircraft carrier dock on Hainan Island last November. Building activity is continuing though.
The new aircraft carrier base is located along the southern coast of Hainan Island a few miles from the city of Sanya and is connected to Yulin Naval Base, an existing nuclear submarine base which has significant underground facilities and is the largest submarine base in Asia. The new base has a docking facility that can accommodate two aircraft carriers and is 700 meters long and 120 meters wide, thus being the longest carrier dock in the world.
This is the second aircraft carrier base the PLAN has with the other being located at Dalian and the base at Sanya will eventually become the homeport of the two aircraft carriers China is currently building at the shipyards in Dalian. The PLAN’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning is based at Dalian though docked at Sanya in November 2013. Construction of the Sanya base began in 2011 and building rapidly progressed over four years. It is reported that the base also holds significant signal monitoring stations which can be used for surveillance in the South China Sea and to collect intelligence on nearby Vietnam.