China’s will put its first natively-built aircraft carrier to sea for the first time later this month, sources close to the Chinese military told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

China put their first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which was purchased as an unfinished hulk from the Ukraine in the late 1990s, into active service in 2012. It was declared combat ready in 2016.

In a controversial January move, China sent the Liaoning and an escort group through the Taiwan Strait, raising international concern about China’s intentions.

The new, yet-to-be-named Type 001A ship is being built at the northern Chinese city of Dalian by the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Corporation.

It features a ski-jump bow to launch aircraft, just like the Liaoning. But there will be no flying, the report said, until much later in development.

The goal of the initial trials will be to test the aircraft carrier’s shipboard systems, to include engineering and damage control, as well as radar and communication systems.

The Type 001A’s first voyage isn’t expected to be substantial, and it will most likely stay in the Bohai Sea, the report said.

“The maiden trial may just involve turning a circle in Bohai Bay, making sure every deck under the water does not suffer leaks,” a source told the Post.

“Safety is still the top priority of the maiden trial. If no leaks are found, the carrier may sail farther to make it a longer voyage, probably two or three days.”

The report added that the ship is ahead of schedule and could join the Chinese fleet by the end of this year or in early 2019. When she’ll be combat ready, however, is another issue, as China’s Navy doesn’t yet have enough trained sailors and officers to operate the ship.

To close their manpower gap, the Liaoning has two or three sailors filling every job onboard Liaoning right now in an attempt to qualify as many as possible.

Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.

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