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The Chinese military is using mock-ups of a U.S. aircraft carrier at a weapons-testing range in a remote western desert, new satellite imagery shows, indicating the People’s Liberation Army is focused on neutralizing a key tool of U.S. power.

Satellite images depict targets in the shape of a carrier and two Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers at a testing facility in the Taklamakan desert in Xinjiang, the news website of the U.S. Naval Institute reported. Both types of vessels are deployed by the U.S. 7th Fleet, which patrols the Western Pacific including the waters around Taiwan.

The images were taken in October by Maxar Technologies Inc., a U.S. firm with more than 80 company-built satellites in orbit. The facility also has two rectangular targets about 75 meters (246 feet) long that are mounted on rails, Maxar said in a statement emailed to Bloomberg News on Monday.

The site is clear to satellites, a sign that Beijing is trying to show Washington what its missile forces can do. In August last year, the Chinese military executed a coordinated test launch of the "carrier killer” DF-21D missiles into the South China Sea, an action that the former head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Adm. Phil Davidson later told a Senate panel was intended as an "unmistakable message.”

Military vehicles carrying DF-21D ballistic missiles roll to Tiananmen Square during a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, in Beijing in September 2015.  | REUTERS
Military vehicles carrying DF-21D ballistic missiles roll to Tiananmen Square during a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, in Beijing in September 2015. | REUTERS

The DF-21D is central to China’s strategy of deterring military action off its eastern coast by threatening to destroy the major sources of U.S. power projection in the region, its carrier battle groups. The then-head of Naval Intelligence Vice Adm. Jack Dorsett told reporters in January 2011 that the Pentagon had underestimated the speed at which China developed and was fielding the DF-21D.

China-U.S. ties have been quietly improving in recent months, but the two nations are sparring over Taiwan and alarm has been growing in Washington over Beijing’s nuclear arsenal. In a sign of how heated the rhetoric over Taiwan has become, Chinese state media last week had to tame online speculation over a possible war.

The Pentagon has voiced concern that China is expanding its nuclear weapons capabilities more rapidly than previously believed. Many in the U.S. military establishment are also concerned about China’s investments in advanced missile technology, with the top uniformed military officer recently calling China’s reported hypersonic weapons system tests "very concerning.”

The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier is trailed by the Maritime Self-Defense Force's Teruzuki  destroyer and the USS Mustin destroyer in the Philippine Sea in July last year.  | U.S. NAVY / VIA REUTERS
The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier is trailed by the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Teruzuki destroyer and the USS Mustin destroyer in the Philippine Sea in July last year. | U.S. NAVY / VIA REUTERS

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