China Has Built Replicas Of The US’s Most Sophisticated War Planes For Target Practice

China appears to be using replicas of U.S. warplanes as target practice in a remote desert area in northwest China. Publicly available satellite images seem to show mock-ups of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and F-22 fighter jets parked at a model airfield in the desert. Scorch marks and craters are also visible around the site, with some of the model warplanes destroyed, presumably from direct hits. An earlier image from June 28, 2021, shows the same site with only seven aircraft and an unscathed runway area.

The site also features mock-ups of P-8A Poseidon and U-2 reconnaissance planes. This combination of facts hints that China is rehearsing airstrikes on the target area. According to the Clash Report, the site is in Qakilik, Taklamakan Desert, Xinjiang. The satellite image showing the mock-up aircraft was taken by Planet Labs PBC on April 19, 2024, and acquired by Business Insider. The image reveals covered and uncovered aircraft positioned by a runway in the Taklamakan Desert. Around 20 aircraft are located near a building, with an additional three planes near the runway. In the image, most of the aircraft are covered up, but nine appear to be exposed.

Brady Africk, an open-source intelligence analyst and an associate at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, stated that the dummy aircraft seem to be targeted for training, similar to other mock-ups created by China. Chinese PLA Air Force pilots are learning to practice airstrikes on American F-35 and F-22 mockups.

Creating mock-ups of enemy assets is one of China’s favored strategies for determining how to neutralize them. China had previously constructed imitations of American warships to use as missile targets. On that occasion, satellite imagery appeared to show a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier and destroyer escort. Those images, captured near a railway track in the desert, suggest that the mock-ups can be transported. It was speculated that these targets were to test China’s new Dong-Feng DF-21D, a land-based ballistic missile regarded as the “carrier killer.”

Earlier this year, China also constructed a replica of a crucial area in Taiwan’s capital, including the presidential office and other government facilities. Though the use of the mock-ups is still uncertain, the move raised concerns that the PLA is preparing for a full-scale invasion of the island nation. Tensions are running high between the two countries, as Beijing has significantly increased its military activity around Taiwan to pressure it into reunification.

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