China began on Wednesday to test its first aircraft carrier, The Washington Post reported.
The carrier is a retrofitted former Soviet ship called the Varyag. It is considered the first step in China’s plan to eventually build a handful of carriers as part of a wider development of naval might.
China bought the carrier from Ukraine in 1998 and has been retrofitting it for the past decade or so, The Post noted.
A new engine and radar equipment were added and the carrier retains its original runway to launch fighters.
China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency said meanwhile that the sea trials on the Varyag “will be a lengthy process from the sea test to the shaping of combat prowess,” adding that the carrier “is only a platform for scientific research, experiments and training.”
According to some experts, the carrier serves as a signal to other nations, particularly those in the region have who been watching China’s rapidly modernizing and growing military amid disputes over rival territorial claims.
“This will start affecting things like South China Sea negotiations, not because of an overt change in military balance, but it will be looming, brooding in the background,” Dean Cheng, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told The Washington Post.
The report noted that six countries in the area claim portions of the South China Sea, with China’s claim being the broadest and encompassing almost the entire region.
But while other countries may fear China’s latest military step, a Pentagon spokesman downplayed the likelihood that the new carrier would lead to any immediate leaps. U.S. experts agreed.
“China’s ‘starter carrier’ is of very limited military utility, and will primarily serve to confer prestige on a rising great power, to help the military master basic procedures, and to project a bit of power,” Andrew Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College and Gabriel Collins, a security analyst, wrote on Wednesday.
“A newly-wed couple wants a ‘starter home’, a new great power wants a ‘starter carrier’,” they added.