The 77,000-ton Type 001A carrier left a shipyard in the northeastern port of Dalian at 6:45am local time on Sunday, Xinhua reported. It sailed out to sea half an hour later.
The sea trials will test the reliability and stability of the vessel’s power system and other equipment, according to sources cited by Xinhua. Once it is in service, it will be able to accommodate China’s Shenyang J-15 fighter jets.
The ship is expected to join the Chinese navy as early as the end of this year. However, a source close to the navy said it was “too early to estimate” when it would be combat ready. The vessel’s target date is 2019, according to the South China Morning Post.
The warship is an upgrade to the ‘Liaoning,’ China’s only operational aircraft carrier, which is a retrofitted Soviet-era Admiral Kuznetsov-class multi-role vessel. That ship, which is expected to serve more as a training vessel in the future, has recently been sailing around Taiwan amid increased tensions between the two governments, largely due to Taipei growing closer to the US.
The new aircraft carrier’s first sea voyage is the latest milestone in China’s move to modernize its military, a plan which also includes developing stealth jets and anti-satellite missiles. Beijing has also been beefing up its presence in the disputed South China Sea, where it has disputes with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan.