In a major step to enhance its battle capabilities, China is reportedly planning to build at least six aircraft carriers. It is also hoping to build 10 more bases for the six carriers around "friendly" countries in every continent, state media reported on Friday (21 April).
The announcement of expanding the aircraft carrier groups comes as China marks the 68th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese navy on 23 April. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) usually highlights the navy's achievements before such events, including escorting ships at sea, building an aircraft battle group, and joint military exercises, the Global Times reported.
Amid mounting maritime disputes, "China needs to build a strong navy to protect its sovereignty and maritime interests, safeguard the security of strategic maritime channels and engage in international cooperation," the state-run newspaper cited the official newspaper of the army PLA Daily as saying.
Beijing has already augmented its fighting capabilities by training more than 10 pilots from carrier-based jet fighters and commanders. The PLA boasted that it makes China one of the few countries capable of training its own pilots for aircraft carriers.
The PLA added that China has already deployed 100 patrol boats and jet fighters to patrol key areas in a bid to safeguard the mainland's maritime interests.
However, in the face of rising tensions in the international waters, especially with the US' interference in the name of freedom of navigation operation, China must develop at least six of its own aircraft carrier battle teams, Xu Guangyu, a senior advisor to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, told the Global Times.
He added that the aircraft carriers are required in order to achieve command of the sea by breaking through the first island chain involving Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the Philippines.
In addition, the country's marine fighting force also needs to be beefed up to around 80,000 to 100,000 to push through with its global ambitions, Xu added.
Liaoning and other aircraft carriers
The Chinese navy already has Liaoning (001) under operation - its first aircraft carrier that was bought from Ukraine in 1998 and was refitted for sea service. It took part in drills that were carried out in the disputed South China Sea in December 2016, raising tensions with the US. The aircraft carrier, which was meant to "fight against Beijing's enemies", marked a milestone for the PLA navy.
The communist country is in the process of completing its second aircraft carrier – a home-made vessel – which is expected to begin service by 2020. China was looking to station the vessel at a base near the strategic international waterways in a bid to increase its military capabilities as well as its readiness to deal with what the Chinese media calls "complicated situations".
It was reported earlier in February that China was building its third aircraft carrier to "protect its overseas interest". The carrier is said to be based on US models and not Russian ones like Liaoning and the second vessel.