Satellite images suggest China has been practising for strikes on US jets
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Satellite images suggest China has been practising for strikes on US jets

The images appear to show a simulated strike on US war planes. (Photo: X/@clashreport)
The images appear to show a simulated strike on US war planes. (Photo: X/@clashreport)

BEIJING - Recent satellite images appear to show that the Chinese military has been practising for attacks on fighter jets and aircraft carriers of the United States in the deserts of Xinjiang, offering possible clues about what its strategy would be in the event of conflict.

The images, taken by Google Earth on May 29, feature a model aircraft carrier and more than 20 replicas of jets resembling US stealth fighters.

"Chinese PLA Air Force pilots are learning to practice air strikes on American F-35 and F-22 mock-ups," said a post containing four satellite pictures published on X, formerly Twitter, by the Turkey-based Clash Report.

The military blogging account identified the location as Qakilik in the Taklamakan Desert. The Post has not been able to verify the images and there has been no official confirmation from China.

Several of these replicas appeared to be severely damaged.

The exercises reflect the People's Liberation Army's efforts to build up its long-range ballistic and cruise missile systems to neutralise the threats from US naval forces, according to Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

"US and allied naval forces in general would be a natural target because of their power projection capabilities, which are perceived by Beijing as a threat," he said.
Koh continued that it would be in line with Beijing's growing emphasis on simulating realistic campaigns and "by and large, Beijing's wartime scenarios appear aimed at counter-intervention against the Americans" especially in the event of conflict in the South China Sea or Taiwan.

If the drill involved the PLA's intercontinental-range systems, it may have been practising strikes on targets such as Guam, Alaska and Hawaii, he added.

The PLA has long held that its exercises are not aimed at any specific party, but mock targets can sometimes give away its thinking - either by accident or design.

In 2015, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) broadcast footage of PLA troops taking part in mock battles near a building that closely resembled Taiwan's presidential office.

Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the exercise appeared to fit the PLA's counter-intervention strategy, designed to deny US and allied naval forces in the Western Pacific access to potential war zones further east.

"This implies the PLA's strike capabilities will probably have either an electro-optical or synthetic aperture radar terminal guidance system to image the target and guide the warhead prior to precisely striking at a specific location on a military base," he said.

The exercise would allow the PLA to improve its precision in scenarios such as a ballistic missile "seeking to strike a moving target at sea, such as an aircraft carrier".

He also said that practising in the desert would help the PLA to improve its ability to carry out long-range conventional precision strikes on land targets, such as airfields.

Hong-Kong based military commentator Leung Kwok-leung said the satellite images suggested a simulated strike on Alaska, where most F-22s were based.

"Alaska is also the base of the most important national missile defence system in the United States. Last year, an F-22 was used to shoot down China's so-called spy balloon, which shows that the F-22 also undertakes the task of the missile defence system," Leung said.

Timothy Heath, a senior international defence researcher at the Rand Corporation think tank, also said "the Chinese are not hiding the mock-ups, so they may not care if Westerners observe them".

"It may also be the case that the Chinese want the US military to see this as a reminder that China is serious about military training and preparation and as a warning against the United States," Heath said.

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