Satellites Spot Full-Scale Mockups of US Warships in Chinese Desert

The mockups were possibly built to test anti-ship ballistic missiles, analysts say.
November 9, 2021, 9:08am
mockup warship china missiles
Satellite images show a target that resembles a destroyer ship in China's Xinjiang region. Photo: Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies / AFP

Satellite images show China has built what look like mockups of U.S. warships, including an aircraft carrier, in its northwestern desert, possibly to prepare the Chinese military for potential future conflicts. 

The images captured last month, provided to the media by Maxar Technologies, showed huge outlines of American naval vessels in the Taklamakan Desert in China’s Xinjiang region.

It’s unclear what exactly the facilities are for, but analysts say they were likely built to test China’s ballistic missiles. 


When asked about the images on Monday, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said he was not aware of the situation. 

Maxar China warship mockup

This satellite image shows a mobile target on a rail track in the Taklamakan Desert. Photo: ©2021 Maxar Technologies / AFP

Talks about military clashes between Beijing and Washington have risen in recent months, largely due to the growing tensions over Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing claims to be its own territory. The U.S. government is committed to aid Taiwan’s defense, although it has not made a clear promise to directly intervene if China attacks the island. 

The Communist Party has recently stepped up rhetoric of bringing Taiwan under its control, which it regards as a part of the Chinese nation’s “rejuvenation.” Beijing last month sent a record number of fighter jets to Taiwan’s air defense zone. 

Last year, Beijing also test-fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles into the disputed South China Sea. Earlier this year, a U.S. military official said China was “pouring a lot of money” into building up anti-ship missile capabilities. 

The mockups of U.S. ships were part of a new target range developed by the People’s Liberation Army, located near a former target range used to test anti-ship ballistic missiles, according to an analysis by the independent U.S. Naval Institute. 


The warship mockups include full-scale outlines of a U.S. carrier, at least two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, and a 75-meter-long target on a rail system, probably used to simulate a moving ship, it said. 

Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the mockups were likely used in testing China’s anti-ballistic missiles. “Given [China’s] focus these days on more realistic military training and weapons trials, we are seeing these capabilities becoming more regular,” he told VICE World News. 

Other mockups of Beijing’s potential military targets have also been spotted in China in the past. 


A building (right) that resembles Taiwan's presidential palace was found at the Zhurihe training base in Inner Mongolia, China in this 2014 image. Photo: Maxar Techologies via Google Earth

In 2015, China’s state broadcaster showcased a military drill that featured soldiers advancing toward what appeared to be a replica of Taiwan’s presidential palace. Satellite images from 2014 and 2015 showed China’s Zhurihe combat training base in Inner Mongolia hosted a building that closely resembled the presidential palace in Taipei and what looked like an Eiffel Tower, according to a report by The Diplomat

Ningxia Aksai Chin

Internet users have found what looks like a terrain model of Aksai Chin in China's Ningxia region. Photo: Maxar Techologies via Google Earth

In 2006, a Google Earth enthusiast spotted in the inland region of Ningxia what looked like a 1:500 scale terrain model of Aksai Chin, a China-controlled border region that is also claimed by India. It was unclear what that landscape was for. Indian and Chinese soldiers last year engaged in deadly brawl in the Galwan Valley close to Aksai Chin, as both sides accused each other of crossing into their own territories.

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