Second China missile target detected in the Xinjiang desert

A second missile target shaped like an U.S. aircraft carrier has been spotted in desert in northwest China not far from the first, according to analysis of satellite imagery by the U.S. Naval Institute.

Images from Maxar Technologies published at the weekend showed structures that looked like a full-scale aircraft carrier and at least two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers at a suspected target range in the Taklamakan desert in China’s Xinjiang region.

USNI News, the Naval Institute’s news portal, now reports a second site that “consists of a single aircraft carrier target” about 300 miles from the first site but also in the Xinjiang region.

USNI News says the new target shares the same characteristics as the first but is only half the size of a real U.S. Nimitz-class carrier.

Analysts say the mock-ups are likely used as training targets for Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) and to send a message of deterrence to the U.S. and its ally Taiwan.

“It’s very clear that the Chinese are developing ASBMs – in effect giving them a new way of attacking U.S. Navy and allied naval capabilities at long range,” said Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst on defense strategy and capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

“Unlike traditional anti-ship missile systems, which are cruise missiles, ASBMs will use a ballistic trajectory and attack from above on a target below,” Davis said.

According to the analyst, “the mock ups are designed to test the sensors on the missile for terminal guidance – (that is) to adjust the missile’s trajectory to lock in on a carrier, given the carrier is a moving target, once the missile is descending over its target.”

“At the broader level, this is part of China building up military capabilities to counter U.S. military intervention in a future Taiwan contingency that could emerge if China decides to use military force to annex Taiwan,” Davis said.

Taiwan’s defense minister Chiu Kuo-cheng admitted on Oct. 6 that cross-strait tensions were “at their worst in 40 years.”

China regards the self-governing, democratic island as a breakaway province and vows to bring it under Beijing’s control, by force if necessary. Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign state.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Nov. 8, 2021. Credit: AP
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Nov. 8, 2021. Credit: AP

‘Focuses on readiness’

The U.S. Defense Department wouldn’t be drawn on the recent revelations.

When asked about the Chinese mock-up targets and the apparent missile training program, a spokesman said the Pentagon is, instead, “focused on its own preparation and readiness.”

“What we’re concerned about … is the increasing intimidation and coercive behavior of the Chinese military in the Indo-Pacific, and also the coercive tactics they’re using, even using economic tools around the world to bend other nations to their will or to their view of what’s in their best interest,” the department Press Secretary John Kirby told a news briefing Tuesday.

“We’re focused on developing the capabilities, the operational concepts, making sure we have the resources and the right strategy in place so that we can deal with the PRC as the No. 1 pacing challenge” Kirby said, using a term that refers to a competitor — the People’s Republic of China – posing the principal challenge to U.S. defence strategy.

China has been developing several anti-ship ballistic missile programs. The latest Department of Defence’s annual report on China’s military suggests that in July 2019, the Chinese military “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.”

At the same time, the People’s Liberation Army is seeking to develop a longer range land-based ASBM, the DF-26, as well as anti-ship missiles that can be fired from aircraft and warships, the report said.

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