BEIJING As China builds a military to match its growing economic power, its neighbors and potential rivals including the United States have puzzled over a key question: When will the Chinese Navy launch an aircraft carrier?
For decades, senior Chinese military and political officials have argued that for the country to become a great power, the People’s Liberation Army Navy needs to add these potent warships to its fleet.
However, the major obstacle to this ambition is that aircraft carriers are hugely expensive.
The two 50,000-metric-ton conventionally powered carriers now under development for Britain’s Royal Navy are expected to cost a minimum of $2.5 billion each. To outfit them with aircraft could cost that much again.
And, aircraft carriers do not operate alone. They need a fleet of warships, submarines and supply vessels along with advanced electronic surveillance for support and protection.
For these reasons, most experts assumed a Chinese carrier was decades away.
But after double-digit increases in defense spending over much of the past 15 years, evidence is now emerging that China has a more ambitious timetable.
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