China’s military has built mockup targets in the shape of an American aircraft carrier and other US warships in its north-western desert, amid escalating tensions with Washington.
Satellite images published by Colorado-based satellite imagery company Maxar Technologies on Sunday revealed full-scale outline of a US Navy aircraft carrier and at least two Arleigh Burke-class of guided missile destroyers (DDGs) positioned in the Taklamakan Desert of Xinjiang province.
The US Naval Institute (USNI) based in Maryland said on its website that the mock-ups of US ships were part of a new target range developed by the Chinese Army.
The area has in the past been used for ballistic missile testing, according to a summary of the Maxar images by geospatial intelligence company AllSource Analysis.
“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,” the AllSource Analysis summary stated, adding that there are no indications of weapon impact areas in the immediate vicinity of 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,” it added.
It was not clear from the images how many details had been incorporated in the mock targets. The carrier target itself appears to be a flat surface without the carrier’s island, aircraft lifts, weapons sponsons or other details.
The exercise reflects Chinese government's efforts to build anti-carrier capabilities as tensions between Washington and Beijing over South China Sea continue to simmer.
The development comes in the wake of a statement by America's top general Mark Milley earlier this week that the US military “absolutely” could defend Chinese Taipei from a potential Chinese attack.
In response to his remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said "the negative words and deeds” of the US related to Taiwan have “encouraged the blatancy of Taiwanese secessionists".
He also blamed Washington for rising tension across the Taiwan Strait. Beijing has reiterated that the issue of Taiwan is a red line that must not be crossed.
Milley echoed US President Joe Biden’s remarks last month that the US would come to Taipei's aid if it were to come under attack from China, claiming it had a commitment to defend the self-ruled island.
China has vastly upgraded its military infrastructure in recent years, amid rising tensions over Taiwan, the South China Sea, and military supremacy in the Indo-Pacific.
“In July 2019, the PLARF conducted its first-ever confirmed live-fire launch into the South China Sea, firing six DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles into the waters north of the Spratly Islands,” the Pentagon’s latest annual report stated.
“The multi-role DF-26 is designed to rapidly swap conventional and nuclear warheads and is capable of conducting precision land-attack and anti-ship strikes in the Western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea from mainland China. In 2020, the PRC fired anti-ship ballistic missiles against a moving target in the South China Sea, but has not acknowledged doing so,” the report added.