Great wall of naval targets found in Chinese desert

HI Sutton Illustration for USNI News Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies Used with permission

China has honed its skills in destroying ships for potential future conflicts on new targets in a remote desert, according to new satellite photos reviewed by USNI News. A new analysis shows that the People’s Liberation Army is testing the ability to hit ships in the harbor with long-range ballistic missiles.

Since USNI News reported that China was building aircraft carrier targets in the Takmalakan Desert, other target sites have emerged, forming a series of large-scale target ranges along the eastern edge of the desert, according to new satellite photos. Several of them are naval and two have layouts that appear to be modeled after the ships in port.

Eight miles southwest of an elaborate carrier plan, a site with full-scale jetties and a destroyer-sized ship-like target was constructed in December. A test missile hit a dead point on the replica ship in February, then the target was then quickly dismantled and is now gone, according to more recent footage.

This new target was discovered as part of the search for aircraft carrier targets, which had been found by All Source Analysis (ASA) with more detail revealed by high-resolution satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies.

Another similar naval base was found about 190 miles southwest by Damien Symons, an independent defense analyst. This location was built in December 2018, but had escaped so far. The pier layout is similar to the destroyer site and also includes ship targets, including one in the same location as the last target.

The nature, location and strikes at these sites all suggest that the targets are intended to test ballistic missiles. These hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) pose a growing threat to warships.

HI Sutton Illustration for USNI News

China is known to have developed several ASBMs. Two types, the DF-21D and DF-26 are land-based. Another type, of unknown designation, is carried away by the H-6 bomber. And it is now confirmed that the Renhai Type-055 class cruiser can throw a smallertentatively identified as the YJ-21.

Damien Symon said there were signs of sophisticated targeting.

“The layout of the targets is very calculated,” he said. “Orientations, shapes and sizes are consistent across multiple targets. There is nothing random about these sites.

The targets appear to be fashioned by laying sheets of metal on the ground. “It’s a different material than pillars and buildings,” adds Symon. “It may reflect heat or radar differently, it could also give us an indication of the complex systems and efforts behind these experiments.”

The naval base target destroyed in February was similar to that found by Symon. It’s almost a copy of the old target, he said

Modern “dumb” ballistic missiles have small error probability circles, a measure of the distance to the aiming point where there is still a 50% chance of it hitting. But if the aiming point is on the jetty of a crowded harbor, most of the CEP is still water, and near misses in a harbor are unlikely to have the desired effect.

Chinese missiles can use infrared, optics or radar to form an image of the target. They could then adjust their trajectory in small amounts to land exactly on the target. From open source information it cannot be concluded whether the missiles use infrared or radar, but there are indications of both. Modern targeting sensors are usually connected to artificial intelligence, which allows the missile to discern targets and choose the desired or most interesting option.

ASBMs, if able to discern a ship from a dock, could inflict a fatal blow on an enemy navy. The fear is that the fleets could be decapitated before they can escape into open water or disperse.

With at least four ASBM weapons in its inventor, it has caused concern at the Pentagon and was cited in the latest Department of Defense report. Report on Chinese military power.

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