Beijing, May 13 China's first indigenously-developed aircraft carrier began sea trials today, official media reported, a historic step in the country's quest to modernise its military and bolster its naval presence in the disputed regional waters.
The new carrier is based on the former Soviet Union's Kuznetsov class design, with a ski jump-style deck for taking off and a conventional oil-fueled steam turbine power plant.
According to Peter Layton, visiting fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, the Liaoning was meant to act as more of a training vessel, whereas the new ship is likely to be deployed in combat missions, positioning China alongside a select number of countries with global naval capabilities, including Russia, France, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
The colossal vessel, which displaces 50,000 metric tons, left the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry's shipyard in Liaoning province about 7 am amid thick fog with the assistance of several tugboats before navigating into the sea under its own power.
As of now the vessel remains a ship with no name and is presently referred to as Type 001A.
The US's 11 vessels are nuclear powered and have far superior technology, including catapult systems for launching aircraft.
The new aircraft carrier is expected to be formally commissioned by 2020.
Between 2010 and 2017, the Chinese Navy increased its complement of ships from 210 to 320, Boston College professor of political science Robert Ross told CNN, including another 18 in 2016 alone.
This May 9, 2018, photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency shows China's aircraft carrier Liaoning at a shipyard in Dalian.
The Shandong's sea trials mark a major milestone in China's blue water navy ambitions and its quest to built a maritime force capable of operating globally.
China is in the midst of a military modernization program heavily promoted by President Xi Jinping, who has overseen a shift in focus toward creating a more potent fighting force, including projects such as building the second carrier, integrating stealth fighters into its air force and fielding an array of advanced missiles that can strike air and sea targets from long distances.
Last week United States intelligence suggested there is a high probability that the Chinese fired missiles to three artificial islands in military drills. However, a source close to the navy said it was "too early to estimate" when it would be combat ready.