China’s aircraft carrier to begin sea trials next month

China’s first aircraft carrier, the reconditioned Soviet-era Varyag, will begin sea trials on Friday, according to military sources, and will be officially launched around October next year.

Another report indicates there will be a delay of the launch to August because of mechanical problems

The Hong Kong Commercial Daily quoted unnamed military sources as saying the carrier would commence sea trials on July 1, which is much sooner than expected. The US Office of Naval Intelligence had estimated the vessel would be launched as a training platform by 2012 and be fully operational after 2015.

China will beef up its military budget by 12.7 percent this year, the government announced in March, a return to double-digit spending increases that stirred unease in the region as well as in the United States which has long had a strong presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Both Vietnam and the Philippines have complained about Chinese activity and even harassment in the contested South China Sea over the past week or so.

China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all claim territories in the sea, which covers an important shipping route and is thought to hold untapped oil and gas reserves.

China’s claim is by far the largest, forming a vast U-shape over most of the sea’s 648,000 square miles (1.7 million square km), including the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.

Reports state that two 50,000-60,000 ton Type 089 aircraft carriers based on the Varyag, are due to be finished by 2015. Sukhoi Su-33s (navalized Flankers) are the aircraft most likely to be flown from these carriers, but China is also developing its own version of the Sukhoi 33, the J-15 Flying Shark.

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