Did China destroy an American-made AWACS aircraft resembling the Japanese E-767? Satellite images

China destroyed what appeared to be an object resembling a Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) aircraft in a desert area in Xinjiang, Asia Nikkei reported, citing the latest satellite images.

Super Hornet for the Navy, Rafale for the Air Force – Did Waiver of CAATSA Help Boeing Closer to Indian Navy Deal?

The object could have been used to practice missile attacks on hypothetical targets in Japan. The report says the area is believed to be under Chinese military control, and several objects resembling US warships have also been seen there.

In a previous article, the EurAsian Times mentioned that satellite images taken of the same area in mid-May showed an object that looked like a Japanese Air Force E-767 aircraft.

The aircraft is an airborne warning and control system (AWACS) of the country’s air force. The last photo, taken on July 13, shows the destroyed object, debris and black burn marks.

As of July 2, the object was still visible in previous satellite images, the report said. The exact timing of the latest event is unclear due to weather which made it difficult to take photos on some days.

However, it seems that the object was destroyed in the first days of July. This is the first known instance of an SDF aircraft-like object being destroyed.

Boeing makes the E-767, and there are only four of them, all stationed at Hamamatsu Air Base.

The four AWACS aircraft operated by the JASDF are “flying command posts”. These are vital as they help detect enemy military movement in airspace away from conflict zones.

Boeing: E-767

There has been speculation that China is running these simulations to make rough plans for an invasion of Taiwan. To achieve this, Beijing must limit the movements and capabilities of the United States and its allies, including Japan.

Analysis of previous satellite images reveals that the AWACS-like structure was put in place in the spring of 2021. The incident occurred after the Japanese and US governments shared a document that explicitly mentioned the Taiwan Strait. Over the past year, China may have used such a structure for military training.

The object is believed to have been destroyed in early July as China and Russia conducted military exercises near Japan. On July 4, Russian and Chinese warships sailed into the area surrounding the Senkaku Islands.

Is Beijing improving missile capabilities?

Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey and a specialist in military analysis of satellite photos, told the Asia Nikkei that the destruction of the E-767-shaped object was a test of a missile ballistic.

Similarly, Tom Shugart, deputy principal researcher at the Center for a New American Security, believes a missile was used in the latest case. He added that while the purpose of the fake target was to test the ability of a missile warhead to identify and target a particular high-value aircraft, that ability was successfully tested.

He claimed that if China had the missile capabilities implied by the photos, then deploying such a weapon could improve the PLA’s ability to attack major aircraft like the E-767.

Regarding how the object was destroyed, however, not all experts agree. The fighter-shaped object is still there, according to Kiyofumi Iwata, a former Japan Ground Self-Defense Force chief of staff, who notes that no signs of impact are visible.

He speculated that the AWACS object “may have been set on fire rather than being hit by a missile.”

Anyway, China destroyed the SDF mockup after using it for training. Satellite images show China has begun dismantling surrounding structures, including the runway and tarmac.

Malan-Xinjiang
File Image: Chinese drones at Malan Air Base in Xinjiang. (Image: Chinese media)

Images of these structures are the most recent example of how satellite imagery can reveal information about the strategic priorities of China’s secret military. Earlier satellite images showed the expansion of ports, runways and other indications of building military bases on islands in the South China Sea.

Military personnel around the world create targets that look realistic for training; Iran, for example, used a replica of an American aircraft carrier. China is notorious for using replica ships as targets in its remote desert for nearly two decades.

In 2013, several media claimed reports that a missile known as the “carrier killer”, the DF-21D, had destroyed a structure modeled on the body of an American aircraft carrier.