China’s indigenous aircraft carrier is out at sea again on a third trial run that reportedly started on Sunday, after being moored for almost two months since its last voyage in September.

The exact route of the trial in the north of the Yellow Sea remains unknown. The giant warship simply disappeared into the morning mist at Dalian, home port of the yet-to-be-christened carrier, which is only referred to as the Type 001A.

China's homemade carrier, known as Type 001A, at the Dalian Shipyard after it returned from its second sea trial. Photo: Weibo via VCG
China’s homemade carrier, known as Type 001A, at the Dalian Shipyard after it returned from its second sea trial in September. Photo: Weibo via VCG

The vessel’s first two journeys were believed to have tested its steam turbines and powerplant, while the latest journey could see further stress tests, as well as testing of the 70,000-ton vessel’s weapons, control and communication systems, as well as combat and logistic aircraft on board.

Still, Chinese papers have sought to play down speculation that fighters on board the carrier such as the J-15 will soon roar into the skies from the ship’s ski-jump takeoff ramp, which has been copied from the Soviet-built Liaoning.

‘No takeoffs just yet’

The Beijing-based Global Times noted on Monday that tests for the new carrier’s command, navigation and landing systems must come first, before aircraft are allowed to take off from the flight deck.

But a legion of what appeared to be J-15 models were spotted on the deck in other undated photos, likely during mock compatibility tests to ensure aircraft’s coordination with the hangar, lifts and other equipment.

The Hong Kong-based pro-Beijing broadsheet Ta Kung Pao revealed that the carrier would be escorted by a barracks ship from the navy’s North Sea Fleet, likely as a temporary accommodation for seamen and other personnel or technicians to take turns onboard the carrier to conduct tests at various stages while at sea.

The sea trial is likely to last until next Tuesday (November 6), as seen in a notice by the Liaoning provincial maritime-safety administration last week, which delineated a large no-go zone in the Yellow Sea in waters between Liaoning and Shandong provinces.

The South China Morning Post also reported in August that the new carrier could be “just one more sea trial away from joining the PLA Navy.” The current rumored date of commission is around the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, which falls on October 1, 2019.

Analysts said the “third trial” could include more than just one sail during the next 11 months until the grandiose 70th-anniversary National Day bash.

The sea trials build on the experience that the PLA Navy has amassed over the past six years operating the Liaoning, which the homemade ship is modeled on.

Beijing has made no secret of its lofty plans to build and commission no fewer than four carrier groups in the next 10-15 years to propel the navy’s blue-water ambitions and defend its sprawling overseas interests.

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