Airbus Defence and Space imagery captured on 22 September suggests that the possible carrier is under construction in the dry dock associated with the refit and repair of Liaoning (CV16), the Soviet-era Kuznetsov-class carrier acquired from Ukraine that is now in People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) service.
The new hull, first noted under construction in imagery captured on 10 March, is in an advanced state of assembly.
IHS Jane’s first noted preparations for a new vessel’s assembly at the dry dock in Airbus Defence and Space imagery captured on 27 February. After the launch of a large commercial cargo vessel, the empty dry dock contained multiple support blocks used to provide a base for keel assembly. On 10 March, further imagery showed the initial stages of hull construction. At the time, the support layout suggested a hull of 150 to 170 m in length with a beam of about 30 m.
The hull assembly continued through the summer. Imagery from 22 September shows a lengthened aft section and expanded bow. The hull is currently assessed to have a length of about 240 m and a beam of about 35 m. The incomplete bow suggests a length of at least 270 m for the completed hull.
Those dimensions would make the ship a little bigger than Britain’s new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, probably around 75-80,000 tons. Lacking — at least for the foreseeable future — the need for longterm global deployment, China’s first indigenous carrier could use simpler diesel powerplants instead of nuclear propulsion.
Beijing has been serious and patient about gaining the experience needed to develop a powerful navy, so I’d be surprised if this hull wasn’t exactly what it seems to be.