Thursday, November 17, 2011

Strange structures in Gobi perplex China-watchers

Experts are struggling to explain the purpose of a series of large structures in the Gobi desert, but all the evidence points towards bombing practice sites

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.

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

1 comment:

Mike Fagan said...

I studied the area on google maps into the small hours last night, and will probably be unable to keep myself away from it again tonight.

One thing that interests me is the airfields to the right of the two rectangular structures. There are three air airfields: two of them are fairly large at several km in length each and with the same basic layout, and yet one is quite obviously much older than the other (it has suffered extensively at the hands of nature). This would indicate that the site fell into disuse, and was then reactivated at a later date.

Over at Wired, there is some mention of the site having been extensively photographed by satellites since 2004.

Another thing is that both of the larger airfields feature similarly shaped and sized adjacent areas which seemed to have been used for bombing practice. So when the Chinese resumed interest in the site, it was presumably for much the same sort of ballistics testing. There is also what seems to be a partially destroyed barracks-like structure in the vicinity of the two larger airfields.

The circular layout of shipping containers - or whatever they are - looks like it is arranged to measure the fallout (e.g. chemical) from some sort of munition set off in the centre. Why they seem to have placed a few old Mig junks in the middle, I don't know.

As to the two "street"-like rectangular structures, they strike me as an unnecessarily complicated and rather uneconomical way to calibrate satellite cams.

Some of the other structures there are probably just salt or rare earth mines. One of them however - to the left of the circular target - is vast at something like 5 miles in length.