When China rolled out its first aircraft carrier six years ago, it was met mostly with shrugs, if not scorn. China had purchased the Soviet-era warship, dubbed the Liaoning, half-finished from Ukraine. It was immediately clear that the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s shiny new toy – a floating blunderbuss in appearance and obsolescence – would never see serious combat duties. The launch of the Liaoning therefore raised some questions: Just what is the purpose of the Liaoning, and what do Chinese strategic planners have in mind?
Two weeks ago, China’s second aircraft carrier slipped out of port in the northeastern city of Dalian for its maiden sea trials. The Type 001A, which may enter service within two years, isn’t a dramatic improvement over the Liaoning. It’s based on the same outdated design, and thus faces most of the same inherent limitations. But there’s one major difference: China built this one from the ground up. The Chinese constructed it qu