Unidentified structures spotted by satellites on the borders of Xinjiang and Gansu Province, China, and posted on the Google Earth Internet service recently are giving rise to speculation about possible military activity, reports say.
The vast structures, all situated in parts of the Gobi used by China for its military, nuclear and space programs, have puzzled analysts. The imagery also leaves unanswered questions over whether the structures are dug in or painted.
Some of the sites observed are situated less than 160km from Jiuquan, where China’s space program and its launchpads are located. The Ding Xin military airbase, where China is believed to conduct classified aircraft tests, is 640km from some of the sites.
One picture taken in 2007 shows an aggregate of orange blocks the size of shipping containers arranged in a circle, with three military aircraft occupying the center. A more recent satellite sweep of the area shows the blocks scattered as far as 4.8km from the site.
Another image shows a series of metallic squares littered with what appears to be the debris of exploded vehicles, lending credibility to claims that some of the structures are used for gunnery or airstrike practice. Other structures consist of kilometers-long grids. With the Lop Nur nuclear test site located about 600km away from some of the structures, some experts have suggested the latter could be optical test ranges for missiles simulating the street grids of cities, with some speculating that this could be a replica of a Washington street layout. Others posit that the grids could be used for satellite calibration.
A defense expert at Jane’s Defence Weekly told the Telegraph that the structures looked similar to the kind of missile test ranges seen in the US, with target and instrumentation used to analyze the effect of missile blasts.
Beijing has yet to comment on the purpose of the structures.