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Mock-ups of US ships used as Chinese targets

November 8, 2021

The outlines of an aircraft carrier and at least one destroyer have been spotted at a Chinese site the US Naval Institute said is used for target practice.

A satellite picture shows a rail terminus and target storage building in Ruoqiang, Xinjian
China's military has been building replicas of US warships in the desert for several yearsImage: REUTERS

Satellite imaging has discovered what appear to be full-scale replicas of US warships in a Chinese desert, agencies reported on Monday.

Images taken last month by US-based company Maxar Technologies show the outlines of a US aircraft carrier and at least one destroyer in the Taklamakan Desert in the northwestern Xinjiang region.

The US Naval Institute (USNI) said the mock-ups were part of a weapons target range set up by the People's Liberation Army.

Pacific arms race

The past few years have been marked by heightened tensions between the US and China over diplomatic and military dominance in the Pacific region.

The rivals are also locked in a renewed arms race, with top US military officials recently expressing concern over China's growing nuclear arsenal and its progress in developing hypersonic missiles.

Of particular concern is the land-based DF-12D missile — known as the "carrier killer" — with a range of 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) that was designed to help neutralize US warships including aircraft carriers.

Satellite image of a US warship mock-up installed on railway tracks
At least one of the mock-ups was installed on railway tracks, likely to replicate a moving vesselImage: REUTERS

Massive aircraft carriers are some of the most potent weapons at Washington's disposal. One such carrier is active in the Pacific along with the 7th Fleet.

Taiwan and the overlapping claims by China and US allies in the South China Sea are deemed to be particularly sensitive possible flashpoints.

What does the US know about the site?

Although the satellite images have only now become public knowledge, the Chinese military has reportedly been working on its mock-ups for several years.

"Analysis of historical satellite images shows that the carrier target structure was first built between March and April of 2019," the USNI report said.

"It underwent several rebuilds and was then substantially dismantled in December 2019. The site came back to life in late September of this year and the structure was substantially complete by early October."

A setallite image shows a massive outline of a US aircraft carrier in the Chinese desert
China has been developing long-range missiles that can target US warships, including aircraft carriers with high precisionImage: REUTERS

The area has previously been used as a testing site for ballistic missiles, USNI cited intelligence firm AllSource Analysis as saying.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin responded to questions about the mock-ups on Monday, saying "I'm not aware of the situation you mentioned."

Correction (November 8, 2021): A previous version of this article misidentified the position of Wang Wenbin. DW apologizes for the error

ab/rt (AFP, AP)