The Chinese military seems to have developed a large blimp (a small airship or barrage balloon) at a remote base in northwestern China, according to exclusive satellite imagery obtained by CNN.
These images were taken three months before the downing of a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina.
The satellite imaging company BlackSky captured these images in November of 2022.
The pictures show a blimp, measuring approximately 100 feet long, parked on a runway at a military complex in the deserts of northwestern China.
The report, citing aerospace experts, noted that the blimp seen in the pictures might represent a more agile and adaptable craft than anything the Chinese military has previously revealed.
Furthermore, it could also indicate a significant leap forward in the country’s airship program.
A large blimp developed by the Chinese military has been spotted for the first time at a remote base in the desert of northwestern China, satellite imagery obtained by CNN showshttps://t.co/ocRU5rwfug
— Peter Martin (@PeterMartin_PCM) May 1, 2023
The report added that the US intelligence officials are aware of the Chinese military base in northwestern China and the blimp that was observed there, but they declined to speak on the matter.
A senior Defense Department official has confirmed that the Pentagon is aware of the blimp’s existence but would not disclose any specific threats it may pose. The official stated that the Pentagon would be tracking the object since the blimp is visible in satellite imagery.
The images also reveal a colossal airship hangar, which is almost 900 feet in length. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) constructed the enormous 900-foot hangar in 2013. However, there was little activity in the area for several years.
Even during winter storms that blanketed the desert base with snow, most of the runway and hangar area remained largely untouched while other parts of the complex and roadways were plowed.
Jamey Jacobs, the executive director of the Oklahoma Aerospace Institute, has cast doubt on whether the enormous hangar seen in the satellite imagery was specifically designed for the blimp discovered at the Chinese military base.
Jacobs told CNN that the large size of the hangar suggests that the blimp may be a “test vehicle or submission.” Back in 2020, a massive cradle-like structure was observed on the runway at the Chinese military base.
The device, roughly 400 feet long and 160 feet wide, was so large that Jacobs believes it’s highly unlikely the comparatively small blimp seen in the satellite images could even utilize it.
The cradle spotted on the Chinese military base bears a striking resemblance to a patent filed by China for holding a large stratospheric airship, according to the report.
“Submarine Of The Skies”
When the United States shot down a Chinese spy balloon that had traveled over continental North America in January 2023, the Chinese government accused the US of overreacting.
But the spy balloon incident has brought increased scrutiny to China’s airship program, highlighting the potential value of airships in its intelligence-gathering operations.
US officials have previously said that the Chinese surveillance program involving balloons is managed from the small Chinese province of Hainan.
While the exact size of the Chinese surveillance balloon fleet remains unknown, reports suggest that the program has conducted over two dozen missions across five continents in recent years.
The discovery of a large blimp at a remote base confirms that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) program uses all three types of airships: blimps, aerostats, and free-floating balloons.
According to Jacobs, this blimp has the potential to act as a “submarine of the skies” due to its dedicated propulsion and navigation capabilities. It can stay in an area for a longer duration, allowing for more extensive surveillance.
Jacobs mentioned that the development of such a blimp indicates a significant advancement for China’s engineering and research funding in this field.
Further examination of the satellite imagery and analysis of the site indicate that the Chinese military has much bigger plans for its airship program and the desert site.
The organizational structure of the Chinese military’s airship program is still unknown, but recent patents indicate that a new PLA group called Unit 63660 has been created to oversee the technology.
This unit has been assigned several patents related to airship technology and storage, which were previously held by a different PLA unit.
According to experts, the emergence of a large airship from the hangar would be a significant indicator that China is really ramping up its airship program. It could signify that China is moving beyond small-scale tests and developing larger airships for surveillance or transport purposes.