Satellite photos analyzed Friday by The Associated Press revealed that China's most advanced aircraft carrier appears to be close to completion. Experts suggested that the vessel could be launched shortly.
Since 2018, the Type 003 Type 003 carrier is being built at Jiangnan Shipyard, northeast of Shanghai. Planet Labs PBC took satellite images on May 31 to show that work is almost complete on the vessel.
This launch was long anticipated and is what the Center for Strategic and International Studies considers a "seminal moment" in China's ongoing modernization efforts and an emblem of China's growing military might.
CSIS reported that China frequently associate military milestones and existing holidays or anniversaries. The vessel could be launched Friday, to coincide with the National Dragon Boat Festival and the 157th Anniversary of the Jiangnan shipyard's founding.
The carrier's deck is clearly visible in the satellite images. A Tuesday image through wispy clouds shows equipment behind the carrier. This is a step towards flooding the drydock and floating it. Work was evident in photos taken earlier this month.
Cloud cover prevented Planet Labs satellites capturing images from the shipyard on Wednesday through Friday.
The Ministry of National Defense of China did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Although no launch was announced by the state-run Global Times newspaper, Tuesday's story quoted reports that it could be launched "soon."
The Chinese navy had also released a promo video in April about its carrier program, "in which it suggested that the country's third carrier aircraft will be officially announced soon."
The U.S. Department of Defense estimates the carrier will not be fully operational before 2024. It first needs to go through extensive sea trials. However, it is China's most advanced carrier. China, like its space program has taken great care in developing aircraft carriers. It only applied technologies that had been proven and perfected.
This development is part of China's larger modernization of its military, as it seeks greater influence in the region. China has the world's largest navy by number of ships, but it does not have the same capabilities as the U.S. Navy.
The U.S. Navy is the world's leading provider of aircraft carriers. It can mobilize 11 nuclear-powered vessels. Nine amphibious assault vessels are also available to the Navy, which can transport helicopters and fighter jets.
As the U.S. increases its attention on the region, including South China Sea, the launch of the Chinese carrier is expected. Six governments claim the vast maritime area, which is vital for global trade and contains significant oil and gas reserves as well as rich fishing stocks.