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China plans to build its first aircraft carrier - news agency

11:02 06/07/2007
HONG KONG, July 6 (RIA Novosti) - China is close to beginning construction of its first aircraft carrier to expand the operational and strategic capabilities of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), a Chinese news agency said Friday.

KANWA News cited sources in the Chinese defense industry as saying that several companies had received contracts on the development of systems and components for the future aircraft carrier.

"This indicates that the decision on construction of the aircraft carrier has been made, and its characteristics have been outlined," the agency said, adding that a shipbuilding company based in Shanghai could be chosen as the main project contractor.

So far, Chinese shipyards have been building fast-attack missile patrol boats, dock landing ships, frigates and destroyers, many with stealthy, high-tech features common on Western warships.

Although Beijing consistently denied media reports saying that China could build its first aircraft carrier as early as 2010, Chinese officials admitted in March that the country was conducting research in aircraft carrier technologies.

Russia has long been offering China assistance in the development of its own aircraft carrier.

Alexander Denisov, head of Russia's weapons procurement agency, said last year at Airshow China 2006 that such assistance would not violate international norms in the light of the EU embargo on exports of military equipment to China, following the repression of student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Regional media attention has recently been focused on the Varyag, an incomplete Russian carrier which was towed to China in 2002.

China bought the ship, which lacked any electronic equipment and weaponry, at an auction in Ukraine and put in a PLAN dry-dock in Dalian.

Although the Varyag arrived in a dilapidated condition, it was cleaned and painted in 2005, and experts believe the Chinese are seriously considering completing the ship.

Russia has provided many of China's new ships, including the Sovremenny-class destroyers and Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines, and there are indications that China will continue to rely on Russian naval construction capabilities.

Russia is currently not building any major surface or submarine warships for China, but it could sell China the Zubr large amphibious assault hovercraft, a large number of Kamov naval troop assault helicopters, and Beriev Be-200 turbofan-powered seaplanes, KANWA News said.

Moscow might also provide aircraft for the future Chinese carrier. Rosoboronexport, Russia's state arms export monopoly, is reportedly in talks on the sale to China of about 50 Su-33 Naval Flanker ship-borne fighters, worth $2.5 billion.

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