China will launch its first indigenously-built aircraft carrier this year which would be a base for People's Liberation Army (PLA) fighter jets and helicopters, five years after commissioning a Soviet-era ship as its first aircraft carrier.
China's first home-made aircraft carrier, currently being built at a Chinese port, is now near completion, Xu Guangyu, a retired Chinese military officer and consultant to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association said.
Though it has been made operational with a variety of exercises in the disputed South China Sea, it is largely considered as an experimental carrier.
Xu said the new aircraft carrier is the first of the Type 001A class and represents an important step in advancing China's naval power.
"The aircraft carrier is being built as planned. Most of its major construction and design work has been completed. Its hull has already been assembled in a shipyard. The ship will soon be equipped with aviation, radar and other facilities," Chinese Defence Ministry Spokesperson Wu Qian had said last year.
Photos of its rapid construction are often flashed in Chinese media sparking speculation that China is speeding up the construction.
Yin Zhuo, a Chinese naval expert, also confirmed in a CCTV interview that China's first home-made aircraft carrier is expected to be launched in early 2017.
There is still a large amount of work to do at the carrier's outfitting stage after its launching. It will take about one to two years to carry out functional debugging for its devices as well as weapons and equipment.
The new aircraft carrier could begin its sea trial by early 2019, Xu said.
Xu also mentioned in the interview that Chinese carrier pilots are also under training, with an expectation of forming two aviation units.