China's emerging aircraft carrier fleet is not designed for combat power, but rather in the pursuit of prestige.

This bears consideration in light of the South China Morning Post's report on Tuesday that China's first self-constructed aircraft carrier has been launched for final sea trials. The new "Type-001A" class aircraft carrier is expected to enter service next year.

Yet, while the carrier represents a milestone in Chinese naval history, it does not offer Beijing any significant military advantages.

For a start, the new carrier is aged in design and incapable of delivering substantial war-fighting power against more advanced prospective Chinese adversaries such as Australia, Japan, and the United States. Based on China's first aircraft carrier, originally of Soviet Union origin, the Type-001A can only launch older fighter jets from its ski-jump flight deck. That limitation would be a big problem for China in the event of any conflict with an advanced military power. Put simply, it would mean the Type-001A would be unable to do the basic job of an aircraft carrier: projecting air power while defending itself effectively.

For the Type-001A to be militarily useful against a modern military power, China would have to deploy its carrier group close to air bases on the Chinese mainland and thus under air cover protection. Chinese air bases on its constructed islands in the South China Sea wouldn't be an alternative in that they would be too vulnerable to early-conflict destruction by U.S. air power. And China could not justify nor risk seeing its carrier groups isolated far out at sea. That's because the carriers would be worse than useless in protecting Chinese supply lines in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean depths. Were they deployed to those depths, U.S. submarine forces would find and sink them.

Of course, these carriers aren't actually about military power; they're about political prestige. When it comes to war-fighting capability, the key to China's actual military threat is its advanced missile capabilities, not floating "please kill me" targets like China's carriers. But when we consider Chinese President Xi Jinping's broader strategy to replace the U.S.-led international order, the carriers do serve an important purpose: They make good propaganda.

Showing large aircraft carriers sailing across the high seas, Xi is able to tell his domestic audience, "Look, I am making China the new great power." Xi's carriers also amplify his strategic influence on the international arena. And while this messaging has an outsize influence in persuading regional states like Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines to reluctantly support Xi's agenda, it also carries impact further afield. To nations around the world, the carriers suggest that Xi is challenging American power and if necessary, will fight that power. It doesn't matter that the carriers aren't a practical means of challenging America; it only matters that they proffer a perception of Chinese resolve. And that understanding of resolve is crucial to Xi's ability to persuade foreign governments to support his economic interests over America's.

Ultimately, however, even if China's carrier reality doesn't pose a significant threat to U.S. security, America has no excuse to be self-confident here. After all, our own carrier fleets are increasingly vulnerable to Chinese missile, submarine, and air-attack swarming forces. And China is determined to challenge America in just about every avenue of international affairs.