China ‘Blows Up’ U.S. Stealth Fighters In Precision-Strike Drills; Comes After Mock Attack On USS Gerald R Ford

Tensions have been mounting in Taiwan, and both the US and China have been refining their wartime strategies and battle tactics to defeat each other. In the latest move, Beijing has been practicing blowing up the United States (US) frontline fighter jets F-35 Lightning II and F-22 Raptors.

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New satellite imagery has shown that China has been practicing bombing the models of American fighter jets, most probably through precision strikes. What could be the aftermath of the Chinese military assault, the image reveals scorched F-35s and F-22s stationed at one end of a long runway.

China regularly conducts drills at the Taklamakan desert in Xinjiang province. The target range complex has several military testing sites. Three years ago, photos provided to USNI News by satellite imagery company Maxar revealed that China had built up models of an American Ford-class aircraft carrier and two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

The full-size aircraft carrier mock-up was near a former target range China used to test early versions of its carrier killer DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles. In January 2024, it was revealed that China had built a full-scale mock-up of the USS Gerald R. Ford, the US Navy’s Supercarrier, at the target complex. This development aligns with China’s continued focus on anti-carrier capabilities against the US.

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However, the presence of the low-tech models of the US 5th generation fighter jets F-35s and F-22s has only one explanation: the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been rehearsing airstrikes on the target area. The site also has mock-ups of P-8A Poseidon and U-2 reconnaissance planes.

F-35s are the fighter-of-choice for allies across the Indo-Pacific to deliver advanced missiles from land and sea. In addition to the USAF’s F-35As, the US Marine Corps’ and Navy’s F-35s have maintained a continuous presence in the Indo-Pacific, including recent F-35B training with South Korean F-35As and F-35C operations aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

To strengthen interoperability, the US, Australia, and Japan will conduct trilateral F-35 training in all three countries in the next two years. By 2035, more than 300 US and allied F-35s will be permanently present across the Indo-Pacific.

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 taken over the Taklamakan Desert reveals covered and uncovered aircraft positioned by a runway. 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 of them appear to be exposed.

China trains its troops by creating life-size models of its adversary’s weapon platforms, which presently, for all practical purposes, is the US. Experts in the past have also surmised that the mock-ups could help China refine its seekers with image-recognition capabilities. This helps the PLA target particular warships with missiles to inflict maximum damage.

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.

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Military Training Or Psy-Ops?

This practice of making mock-ups is very Chinese. The Air Forces world over generally simulate bombing a runway or aircraft by just circling their runways. This also underscores that the mock-up also helps in creating a smokescreen for China’s adversaries.

Recently, a photo of a US Patriot anti-aircraft missile system mounted on a truck started circulating on social media. The photo expectedly created concern as some theories suggested that Russia managed to lay its hands on one of the systems used by Ukraine and transferred it to China.

However, the theories were debunked as experts called it a VISMOD (visual modification) training tool or, in other words, a mock-up of the Patriot system.

China has been upping the ante as its stance on Taiwan becomes more belligerent. China’s aircraft and drones are being spotted closer to the island with alarming frequency.

The fear that the Communist Party might make good on its promise to forcibly take control of Taiwan’s self-rule island has increased in recent times in light of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s increasingly bellicose actions towards the self-ruled island.

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Beijing claims democratic Taiwan as its territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring the self-ruled island under its control.

Analysts and military strategists think that Beijing will strive for unification either by opting for a full-scale invasion or a military blockade.

The US insistence that the island nation ought to be an independent sovereign state, has not gone unnoticed by China. Beijing took indirect military action against Taiwan in May this year, as it held a massive two-day exercise around the island as ‘strong punishment’ for the self-ruled nation’s ‘separatist acts.’

The mock-up and drills send a message to the US and Taiwan not to test Beijing’s resolve regarding the “re-unification” project.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at)
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