• China built mock-ups of US aircraft out in the Taklamakan Desert, satellite images show. 
  • Apparent blast marks and craters suggest China may be using the area for target practice. 
  • China has previously built mock-ups of US warships and carriers, likely for similar purposes.

Satellite images show what appear to be mock-ups of fifth-generation US aircraft, among other aircraft, out in a Chinese desert.

The airplanes, along with the suspected runway covered in apparent scorch marks and craters, suggest that China may be using the mock aircraft and area for target practice. It would not be the first time that this sort of thing has been observed in China.

The satellite image of the mock-ups, captured April 19, 2024 by Planet Labs PBC and then obtained by Business Insider, show both covered and uncovered aircraft by a runway at a site in the Taklamakan Desert. There looks to be around 20 aircraft near a building and three more planes near the runway.

Satellite image from April 19, 2024, show Chinese mock-ups of US aircraft in the Taklamakan Desert. Foto: Planet Labs PBC

Brady Africk, an open-source-intelligence analyst and an associate at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, said that the mock aircraft appear to be targets for some sort of training, not unlike other mock-ups China has made.

While most of the aircraft in the image are covered up, nine look to be exposed. Six of the uncovered aircraft strongly resemble the US Air Force's F-22, the first fifth-generation fighter. As for the other aircraft, they look a bit like the P-8A Poseidon and the U-2 reconnaissance plane, though it is difficult to say for certain.

More recent satellite images from late May surfaced on social media this week, showing apparent F-35 mock-ups among the fighters.

Those satellite images, like the image from April, also appear to indicate that China has been using the aircraft and the area for target practice. Scorch marks and craters are evident at one end of the apparent runway, and some of the aircraft mock-ups appear wrecked. Those marks were not visible in an earlier image from a few years ago.

Satellite image from June 28, 2021, show Chinese mock-ups of US aircraft in the Taklamakan Desert. Foto: Planet Labs PBC

That satellite image from June 28, 2021, also courtesy of Planet Labs PBC, shows the same site but with only seven aircraft and an unscathed runway area.

Satellite image of a new carrier target in China's Taklamakan Desert. Foto: Image © Planet Labs PBC

China has previously built mock-ups of American assets for target practice.

In January of this year, satellite images showed what appeared to be a mockup of the Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier and a US Arleigh Burke-class destroyer also in the Taklamakan Desert. The mock-ups are believed to be targets and may be part of China's efforts to further develop its missile force against naval targets.

In a war with China, the US would likely turn to its carrier strike groups for combat power projection.

One expert previously told BI that these mock-ups potentially allowed China to refine seekers with image-recognition capabilities and help it develop the ability to accurately target particular ships or even specific parts of ships where a missile could do the most damage.

A satellite image of an apparent US Arleigh Burke class destroyer in the Taklamakan Desert, photographed January 1, 2024. Foto: Image © Planet Labs PBC

China has much to gain from practicing with mock-ups of US aircraft and ships. China has also built a mockup of Taiwan's capital city, including its presidential office and government buildings, out in the desert of the Alxa League area. Such a facility could be used for training to prepare it for conflict.

Read the original article on Business Insider