It appears to be a desert firing range like no other — located in Ruoqiang, in China’s northwestern desert region of Xinjiang, there are giant mock-up warships that are shaped like a US Ford-class aircraft carrier and Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.
And it has raised the alarm of US Pentagon officials, who fear that China is seriously gearing up for a shooting war over the Taiwan issue.
Satellite images captured by Colorado-based satellite imagery company Maxar Technologies show that China has built mock-ups of US ships on what appears to be a military firing range — suggesting they will be used for target practice, the UK’s Daily Mail reported.
It comes amid a massive military build-up by Beijing that has seen it develop new nukes, battleships, jet fighters, tanks and missiles while massively expanding its armed forces as it takes an increasingly bullish stance on the world stage.
Beijing and Washington are currently at loggerheads over Taiwan — an island China has vowed to “reunify” despite Biden saying he is willing to defend it — with tensions further growing in the South China Sea.
The independent US Naval Institute said on its website that the mock-ups of US ships were part of a new target range developed by the People’s Liberation Army.
Maxar identified the location as Ruoqiang, a Taklamakan Desert county in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
Targets include at least one stationary aircraft carrier, two stationary destroyers, and one aircraft carrier attached to a rail and designed for moving target practice.
It was not clear from the images how many details had been included, although USNI said it had identified features on the destroyer including funnels and weapons systems which reveal it is designed to mimic the Arleigh Burke-class.
China’s massive military upgrade has emphasized the development of land, sea and air-launched missiles to deny access and possibly sink opposing vessels, expressed most emphatically by the land-based DF-21D ballistic missile known as the “carrier killer.”
Recent months have also seen a substantial increase in Chinese military flights just southwest of Taiwan, the self-governing island republic claimed by Beijing as its own territory and which it threatens to annex by force.
The Chinese navy is the largest maritime force on Earth, boasting a total of 355 vessels, the US Defense Department revealed in a recent report.
China’s navy, known as the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), has 355 ships and submarines, with an estimated 145 major surface combatants.
The navy is also readying its ability to carry out long-range precision strikes against land targets and enhance its anti-submarine warfare, further strengthening China’s global power projection capabilities, the report noted.
And this number is only expected to grow in the future, with the Defense Department anticipating the Chinese fleet to grow to 460 ships by 2030.
In addition to the world’s largest navy, China also possesses the world’s largest standing army and the third-largest air force. This is in addition to the country’s noted nuclear capabilities.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said: “We’re witnessing one of the largest shifts in global geo-strategic power the world has witnessed.
‘Today [China] has capabilities in space and cyber, land, sea, air, undersea, and they are clearly challenging us regionally.
‘So we have a case here of a country that is becoming extraordinarily powerful, that wants to revise the international order to their advantage.
‘That’s going to be a real challenge over the coming years. In the next 10, 20 years. That’s going to be really significant for the United States.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing Monday that he had no information about the images, saying, “I’m not aware of the situation you mentioned.”
“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 the AllSource Analysis summary, which said there are no indications of weapon impact areas in the 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.“
Analysis of satellite images shows that the carrier target structure was first built between March and April of 2019. 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.
Sources: The Daily Mail, ABC News, USNI News, Jerusalem Post, US Department of Defense