BEIJING (AP) – Satellite images show China has built scale models of a US Navy aircraft carrier and destroyer in its northwestern desert, possibly to train for a future naval clash as tensions rise between nations.
China has dramatically improved its military in recent years, and its capabilities and intentions increasingly concern the United States as tensions rise over the South China Sea, Taiwan, and military supremacy in the Indo-Pacific.
Images captured by Colorado-based satellite imagery company Maxar Technologies, dated Sunday, show the outlines of a U.S. aircraft carrier and at least one destroyer sitting on a railroad track.
Maxar identified the location as Ruoqiang, a county in the Taklamakan Desert in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
The Independent United States Naval Institute said on its website that the model ships of the United States were part of a new range of targets being developed by the People’s Liberation Army.
It was not clear from the footage how many details were included in the apparent targets, although the USNI said it identified features on the destroyer, including its funnels and weapon systems.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily briefing on Monday that he had no information about the footage, saying, “I am not aware of the situation you have. mentioned “.
China’s massive military upgrade has focused on fighting naval forces from the United States and other countries.
This includes the development of missiles launched by land, sea and air to repel and possibly sink enemy ships, expressed most emphatically by the land-based ballistic missile DF-21D known as the “aircraft carrier killer.” “.
Recent months have also seen a substantial increase in Chinese military flights just southwest of Taiwan, the autonomous island republic claimed by Beijing and which it threatens to annex by force. Washington supplies Taiwan with much of its weapons, and US law requires it to ensure the island can defend itself and treat threats against it as matters of “grave concern.”
The images released by Maxar come amid growing concern about the possibility of a military conflict between the world’s two largest economies, which are at odds over a litany of political and economic issues.
The Pentagon released a report this month saying China is expanding its nuclear force much faster than US officials predicted just a year ago. This appears designed to allow Beijing to match or overtake the United States’ world power by mid-century, according to the report.
U.S. defense officials have said they are increasingly suspicious of China’s intentions, mainly regarding Taiwan’s status.
“The PLA’s evolving capabilities and concepts continue to strengthen (China’s) ability to ‘fight and win wars’ against a ‘powerful enemy’ – a likely understatement for the United States,” the report said.
The Chinese Navy and Coast Guard are also adding new ships at a record rate, concentrating them in the South China Sea, the strategic waterway that China claims virtually in its entirety.
If the US Navy remains predominant, its resources are distributed between the Indo-Pacific, the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean and other regions where American interests are located.
China’s test of a hypersonic weapon capable of partially orbiting Earth before re-entering the atmosphere and gliding on a maneuverable trajectory toward its target also surprised top U.S. military leaders. Beijing insisted it was testing a reusable space vehicle, not a missile, but the weapon system design is intended to evade U.S. missile defenses.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the test was “very close” to being a “Sputnik moment”, akin to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the world’s first space satellite, that fueled fears in the United States States were lagging behind technologically.