An undated photo of China's first aircraft carrier [File photo: Xinhua]
China plans to put its first aircraft carrier into service later this year, a top navy official said.
Xu Hongmeng, deputy commander of the Navy of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, told the People's Daily on Sunday the PLA "has a plan" to put it into service this year. The carrier has undergone four sea trials since last year.
According to media reports, the former Varyag, which is docked in Dalian Port, in Northeast China's Liaoning province, is currently equipped with life-size model planes.
China's first aircraft carrier, a retrofitted former Soviet vessel, set out on its maiden voyage on Aug 10 and returned to port five days later. It underwent three more sea trials in the Pacific.
Rear Admiral Cao Dongshen, a deputy at the 11th National People's Congress, China's top legislature, told China Daily on Monday that the refitted aircraft carrier will not be deployed as part of a single fixed fleet, but will keep traveling.
The carrier will be used mainly for experiments, training and scientific research, Cao said on the sidelines of the annual national legislature session.
Cao brushed aside a report that China is building overseas naval bases, because the country has a near-shore defense policy.
Wang Dengping, the political commissar of the Navy's North China Sea Fleet, told the media on Sunday that possessing an aircraft carrier will not change China's defense policy.
China has 3 million square kilometers of sea area yet only one aircraft carrier, which is mainly committed to scientific research and training. Our near-shore defense policy will not be changed, Wang said.
Analysts said that China's weaponry is developing in line with its overall national strength and rising defense needs.
Along with its economic development, China has seen an increasing amount of overseas shipping of strategically important materials in recent years.
Lieutenant General Xu Xiaoyan, an officer with the PLA General Armament Department and also an NPC deputy, said it will take some time for China to build an aircraft carrier whose components are all domestically developed.
An aircraft carrier is a complex piece of equipment and merely to make all of its electronics systems compatible with each other is an arduous task, said Xu.
With its rapid economic growth, China needs to invest more in equipment and rapidly boost its defense capacity, he said.
The vessel, an Admiral Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier, measuring 304.5 meters long and displacing 58,500 tons, was intended for the Soviet navy.
But its construction was halted when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Engineers in Ukraine disarmed it and removed its engines before selling it to China in 1998.
China is the last permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to operate a fully functioning carrier.
The United States, Britain, France, Russia, Spain, Italy, India, Brazil and Thailand operate 21 active aircraft carriers, with the US alone having 11.
India bought and commissioned an aircraft carrier in the late 1980s and Thailand did so in the 1990s.