Pictures circulating on Chinese social media platforms over the weekend also showed smoke coming out of the warship’s chimney, indicating intensive tests of the main propulsion system and other equipment were under way.
Song said the first sea trials would take place only in nearshore waters, and the process might go on for at least a year.
It is likely to involve six months of sea trials, followed by a further year-long testing of specific equipment and weapon systems, he said.
“The sea trials will mainly focus on testing the carrier’s propulsion, navigation and communication systems, and then it can enter the second stage to go through [the testing of] other ship-borne equipment,” Song said.
Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at the Taiwanese naval academy in Kaohsiung, said he expected the Fujian to test the J-15T – a carrier-based, catapult-type fighter jet.
“The removal of the covers means the electromagnetic catapults are ready to launch the J-15T, because the launch system is not a new thing for the PLA,” Lu said.
He said satellite pictures from the navy’s training base near Xingcheng, in northeastern Liaoning province, showed PLA troops had been undergoing simulation training for J-15T take-off and landing operations off a land-based catapult system since 2016.
The J-15T is an upgraded, catapult-type version of the J-15 “Flying Shark”, a fourth generation aircraft and China’s only ship-borne fighter jet.
The original J-15 is now operating off China’s two active aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and Shandong. Both the Liaoning, a refitted ex-Soviet vessel that became China’s first aircraft carrier, and the Chinese-built Shandong feature the Russian-designed less-advanced ski-jump ramp for take-offs.
China is also developing a new generation carrier-based stealth fighter that could compete with the US Navy’s F-35C jet.
The Fujian originally featured three conventional steam-powered catapults, as China does not have a ship-borne nuclear reactor – as all US aircraft carriers do.
With a displacement of more than 80,000 tonnes – some 20,000 tonnes more than either the Liaoning or Shandong – the conventionally powered Fujian is the first of the PLA Navy’s Type 003 class warships.
It is also only the world’s second aircraft carrier to use an electromagnetic catapult system for flight deck launches, after the US Navy’s nuclear-powered Gerald R. Ford class.
Zhou Chenming, a researcher with the Beijing-based Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank, also said the Fujian would need to undergo another round of specific operational equipment assessments following the first sea trials.
This would include checks on damage control, fuel pipe, circuitry, communications, radar and sonar, and other systems, he said.
“If nothing is wrong, the ship will be handed over to the PLA Navy in 2025 as scheduled.”