China has built detailed, life-size mockups of several US warships in the desert and is apparently using them as target practice, according to new satellite images.
The news comes amid heightened tensions between Beijing and Washington over China’s increasing aggressiveness in the South China Sea and its territorial claims over Taiwan.
The pictures, captured by Colorado-based satellite imagery company Maxar Technologies, show the outlines of a full-scale US carrier and two destroyers, one of which sits on a railway track suggesting it could be used as a moving target.
The mockups of US ships are part of a new target range developed by the People’s Liberation Army in China’s northwestern Taklamakan desert, according to the independent US Naval Institute (UNSI), who released the images on Sunday.
Some of the fake boats have a huge amount of detail; USNI identified funnels and weapons systems on one of the copies of an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.
“The mockups of several probable US warships, along with other warships (mounted on rails and mobile) could simulate targets related to seeking/target acquisition testing,” according to a statement by geospatial intelligence company AllSource Analysis, quoted by USNI.
“This, and the extensive detail of the mockups, including the placement of multiple sensors on and around the vessel targets, it is probable that this area is intended for multiple uses over time,” it added.
The structures are in Ruoqiang, northwestern Xinjiang region, according to Maxar. AllSource Analysis identified the site from satellite imagery.
The area is near a former target range China used to test early versions of its “carrier killer” DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles in 2013.
The PLA has long been working on developing such missiles, which can hit a moving aircraft carrier from a distance of 5,000 kilometers. The aim is to make it difficult for the US to operate within the region’s first island chain, which includes Japan, Taiwan and the northern Philippines.
This summer, the US Navy announced that its aircraft carrier Gerald R Ford successfully completed the Full Ship Shock Trials, withstanding the impact of three 40,000-pound (20 tonnes) underwater blasts.
One of the mockup boats in the Xinjiang desert bears a striking resemblance to that boat.
Analysis of historical satellite pictures shows the carrier mockup was first built between March and April of 2019, before being dismantled later that year and then rebuilt again this September and October. It is not knowN when the other structures were built.
AllSource Analysis said there did not appear to be any signs of weapon impact in the area around the structures, raising the possibility that they were partly being used as psychological warfare, according to experts.
“Is it really necessary to exact the outline of an aircraft carrier? Probably not, a large blob or rectangle would do,” said Euan Graham, senior fellow for Asia-Pacific Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies
“There’s a bit of gamesmanship involved to make a point to the United States in a public way that we’ve got you in our sight, literally and figuratively.”
It’s not the first time China has built an aircraft carrier target in the desert. A large concrete pad roughly the size of a carrier was spotted being used as a target as early as 2003.
But China has massively upgraded its military capabilities in recent years and become more belligerent, prompting concern among its Indo-Pacific neighbours and the US.
It has focused a lot on Taiwan, recently escalating its threats to invade if the self-governing island does not agree to unify with China.
Chinese military aircraft simulated missile attacks on a US aircraft carrier during an incursion into Taiwan’s air defence zone three days after Joe Biden’s inauguration in January. In recent months, Beijing has flown hundreds more warplanes into the zone, mostly near the disputed Dongsha islands.
The telegraph, UK.