Commercial satellite images released over the weekend show that the Chinese military has constructed mockups of U.S. warships including aircraft carriers and destroyers, likely to prepare for future naval warfare amid rising tensions between both economic powerhouses.
The mockups represent the latest indication that China is spending lavishly to dramatically upgrade and improve its military capabilities after lagging far behind U.S. military capabilities for decades. In particular, modernizing the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has become a focus for China as it would use naval power to deny the U.S. Navy and allies access to the South China Sea and areas of the Pacific Ocean in any future conflict over Taiwan or Japan.
The mockup images dated Sunday were captured by satellite operated by Maxar Technologies, which is based in Colorado. The photos show the outlines of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier and at least one destroyer, both of which are situated on a railway track system. The company said the satellite images are from Ruoqiang, a Taklamakan Desert county in the northwestern Xinjiang region, according to The Associated Press.
Satellite images show China has built mock-ups of U.S. warships in its northwestern desert, possibly to practice for a future naval clash. China is massively upgrading its military, and its capability and intentions are increasingly concerning to the U.S. https://t.co/dLOPJXiI4C
— The Associated Press (@AP) November 8, 2021
Other mockups are static, with one appearing to resemble the new Ford-class supercarriers and “at least two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers,” the independent U.S. Naval Institute reported.
“This new range shows that China continues to focus on anti-carrier capabilities, with an emphasis on U.S. Navy warships. Unlike the Iranian Navy’s aircraft carrier-shaped target in the Persian Gulf, the new facility shows signs of a sophisticated instrumented target range,” USNI News added.
The extensive rail system would be used to mimic a moving target — a ship underway at sea. The range is also near a former site where China once tested its “so-called carrier killer DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles” beginning around 2013, the news outlet continued.
The outlet also noted that some of the mockups were fairly sophisticated and that it was clear the Chinese had constructed them to resemble American warships.
“The mockups of several probable U.S. warships, along with other warships (mounted on rails and mobile), could simulate targets related to seeking/target acquisition testing,” added a summary by AllSource Analysis, noting that there do not appear to be any signs of weapons impact areas near the mockups.
“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,” the assessment continued.
NEW – Chinese military has built a full-scale American aircraft carrier mockup and other U.S. warships in a remote desert as part of a new "target range complex."https://t.co/bxBUeGKkx3 pic.twitter.com/wfCNhazWOc
— Disclose.tv (@disclosetv) November 7, 2021
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, denied any knowledge of the site or the images. “I’m not aware of the situation you mentioned,” he told one reporter, according to USNI News.
Tensions between the U.S. and China, as well as China’s neighbors including Japan, Taiwan, and Australia, have increased in recent months under the Biden administration. For instance, China has sent large formations of bombers and warplanes towards Taiwan, a self-governing island republic which Beijing has claimed as its own and has threatened to invade if the government there were to declare independence.
This month, the Pentagon issued a report noting that China has expanded its nuclear weapons force far faster than U.S. intelligence had estimated only a year ago. The report said the rapid addition of nuclear forces is part of China’s objective to supplant the United States as the world’s foremost power by 2050.
To that end, China is also adding naval warships and Coast Guard vessels at a fast clip, concentrating most of them in the South China Sea, nearly all of which Beijing claims as territorial waters in violation of international law and norms.
“The PLA’s evolving capabilities and concepts continue to strengthen (China’s) ability to ‘fight and win wars’ against a ‘strong enemy’ — a likely euphemism for the United States,” the report noted.
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