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China was spotted using mock-ups of American stealth fighters to train its pilots

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Chinese Mock-ups

Leaked satellite images show the Chinese military using mock-ups of the most advanced U.S. fighter jets for target practice.

The satellite imagery shows a number of F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jet mock-ups, among other replica aircraft, parked in a desert in northwest China with bombing craters all around them.

This isn’t the first time the Chinese military has used mock-ups for target practice: in the recent past it built mock-ups of a U.S. aircraft carrier and of Taiwanese government facilities.

The satellite imagery shows at least 20 fighter jet mockups, including what looks to be replicas of F-35 Lightning II and F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets, parked in rows. Some of the replicas show signs of fire or bomb damage.

The imagery also shows what looks to be a KC-46 Pegasus air tanker replica and two P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance replicas. U.S. air units across the Indo-Pacific use all four types of aircraft depicted in the satellite imagery.

Moreover, a runway with significant damage, most likely from air-dropped munitions or missiles, is also visible.

Militaries across the world use mock-ups of aircraft carriers, main battle tanks, stealth fighter jets, armored personnel carriers, and of others to train troops more realistically. The Chinese military often uses such mock-ups to test new weapon systems and munitions, as well as to train its pilots.

Yet, the mock-ups used by China also have a psychological aspect. The Chinese military understands that such mock-ups are very likely to be detected by the powerful assets of the U.S. Intelligence Community and military – and even by commercial satellites. As such, there is a high likelihood that such training will get circulated in Western media, thereby publicizing the deterrence capabilities of the Chinese military.

Related: The man who stole America’s stealth fighter secrets for China

Modernization of China’s military

J-20 Chinese fighter
A Chengdu J-20 during the opening of Airshow China in Zhuhai, November 2016. (Photo by Alert5/Wikimedia Commons)

Chinese armed forces have undergone large-scale modernization over the past five to 10 years. The Chinese Communist Party is spending hundreds of billions on its military capabilities. Indeed, it spends vastly more than it publicly discloses – the actual number is disputed but ranges between $400 to $700 billion per year. In comparison, the United States is spending around $850 billion per year on its defense.

Currently, the Chinese navy is the largest in the world and can even field as many as 700 warships and support ships in the event of a conflict. The Chinese army is also modernizing its training and weapon systems. Meanwhile, the Chinese air force is increasing its aircraft numbers and incorporating stealth fighters like the Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang FC-31, and improving its capabilities. Moreover, the Chinese military is working to increase its nuclear arsenal, aiming to have at least 1,000 warheads in the near future.

To be sure, the Chinese military lacks operational experience. China hasn’t fought a war in decades, and military power on paper doesn’t always translate into combat effectiveness in action. But the gap with the U.S. military is closing, and that is the most concerning aspect of China’s military modernization.

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Stavros Atlamazoglou

Greek Army veteran (National service with 575th Marines Battalion and Army HQ). Johns Hopkins University. You will usually find him on the top of a mountain admiring the view and wondering how he got there.