Eye on Pacific: Why China is testing anti-ship ballistic missiles in Xinjiang desert

In November satellite pictures showed what appeared to be full-scale outlines of American warships in China's Xinjiang's Taklamakan desert.

China targets anti-ship ballistic missile tests

According to reports, China is testing anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM) in Xinjiang's Taklamakan desert.

China had built a mock-up of the Ford-class aircraft carrier at a missile range in Taklamakan desert, according to photos released by Maxar on behalf of the US Naval Institute in November last year.

A seventy-five foot meter ship-like target was put on a six-meter wide rail which was picked up by the Maxar satellite. An anti-ship ballistic missile is designed to hit a warship at sea.

Reports claim the tests were conducted with an eye on the Pacific as China is embroiled in a dispute with several countries in the South China Sea. US ships have repeatedly entered the South China Sea area angering China.


China has been developing anti-ship missiles for years

China has been developing anti-ship missiles for years, including ones capable of taking out aircraft carriers.

In November satellite pictures showed what appeared to be full-scale outlines of American warships including an aircraft carrier, satellite imagery showed, possible targets to practise striking some of the most potent US weapons deployed in the Pacific.

The US Navy's carrier battle groups - centered around massive aircraft carriers -- are among the most powerful weapons in the American arsenal.


Taklamakan Desert

In satellite images captured in November by Maxar Technologies  showed huge outlines of American naval vessels were seen in the Taklamakan Desert in China's western Xinjiang region.

They included at least one shaped like an aircraft carrier, and another in the form of a destroyer. One target was seen mounted on a rail transportation system.

"Analysis of historical satellite images shows that the carrier target structure was first built between March and April of 2019," the US Navy report said.


China's DF-21D missile

The USNI cited intelligence firm All Source Analysis as saying the area has been used for testing ballistic missiles in the past. However, the Chinese foreign ministry in November had said that it "not aware of the situation".

Beijing is currently on a major arms modernization drive, according to a Pentagon report Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), with many weapons designed to help neutralise the most important American warships in the event of a regional conflict.

These include the DF-21D missile, which has a range of more than 930 miles (1,500 kilometers), the Pentagon said.

It provides "the capability to conduct long-range precision strikes against ships, including aircraft carriers, out to the Western Pacific from mainland China," the report added.


PLA's focus

The Chinese military has deployed these missiles in exercises, in what US Navy Admiral Philip Davidson has described as "an unmistakable message to regional and global audiences".

"Their employment during a large-scale PLA exercise demonstrates the PLA's focus on countering any potential third-party intervention during a regional crisis," he had told the US Senate last year.

The US Navy regularly conducts operations in the South China Sea and around Taiwan, angering Beijing.

China claims almost the entirety of the disputed waterway and considers Taiwan to be a part of its territory to be seized one day, by force if necessary.


DF-26 missile can cover South China Sea & Indo-Pacific region

The DF-26 missile with its superior range can cover vast areas in the South China Sea and including the Indo-Pacific region. The intermediate-range ballistic missile was inducted into the Chinese defence forces three years ago

The Chinese defence forces can reportedly fire the missile at an aircraft carrier from a distance of 1000 to 2000 nautical miles.

China has been moving the missiles quite openly this year. The PLA had deployed the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) to a training site in Shandong province in the east, according to  Maxar Technologies Satellite photos.


China's claim on South China Sea & the so-called nine-dash line

China claims the majority of the South China Sea, invoking its so-called nine-dash line to justify what it says are historic rights to the key trade waterway.

Japan has long said it feels threatened by China's vast military resources and territorial disputes.

It is particularly concerned by Chinese activity around the Japanese-administered Senkaku islands, which Beijing claims and calls the Diaoyus.

France has strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific including territories like Reunion in the Indian Ocean and French Polynesia in the South Pacific.


Taiwan Straits conflict

The Taiwan Straits is another point of friction between the United States and China. The United States, which has diplomatically recognised Beijing since 1979, has maintained relations with Taipei and remains its most important military ally.

A US law requires Washington to help the island defend itself in the event of a conflict.

In recent months, the Chinese Air Force has increased incursions into Taiwan's air defense identification zone. The US military fears a surprise invasion by China, and they, too, criticise the lack of clarity from the executive branch.


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