• The replicas were seen intact in the satellites images captured on July 2
  • Analysts said it is almost certain that it was a test of a ballistic missile
  • This is the first time that the PLA is using the mockup of a JSDF plane

China has "fired a missile" on the mock-up of a Japanese military aircraft leaving just charred remains, show satellite images from the desert area of Xinjiang.

The images, clicked by U.S.-based Planet Labs on July 13, showed the debris of an aircraft resembling an E-767 airborne warning and control system (AWACS) used by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. A satellite image clicked in May had shown the replicas of the aircraft, a runway, and buildings resembling a tarmac in the desert region, reported Nikkei Asia.

The replicas were seen intact in the images captured on July 2 too. However, all that is left 10 days later is charred remains, suggesting that China launched a missile on the target sometime in early July. The date cannot be ascertained due to the weather conditions that prevented photography on some days, the report added.

Meanwhile, this is the first time that China has been using an object that resembles a Japanese warplane to launch an attack. Earlier, reports had mentioned how the PLA was using the replicas of U.S. aircraft carriers to practice strikes.

The analysis of previous images revealed that the replicas were put up in 2021, soon after Japan and the U.S. shared a joint document specially mentioning the Taiwan Strait.

"I think we can safely conclude this was a test of a ballistic missile of some sort," Jeffrey Lewis, professor at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and a specialist in the military analysis of satellite photos, told Nikkei Asia.

Tom Shugart, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, too said that it was a missile strike. "If the purpose of the mock target was to test the ability of a missile warhead to recognize and strike specific high-value aircraft, and that capability was in fact tested successfully, then deployment of such a weapon could improve the PLA's ability to strike key aircraft like the E-767," he told the news outlet.

However, a Japanese military analyst said he doesn't believe a missile was used. According to Kiyofumi Iwata, former chief of staff of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, no impact marks can be seen and the fighter-shaped object remains. "The AWACS object may have been set ablaze, rather than hit by a missile," he told Nikkei Asia.

That said, Japan is the only country that operates an E-767 aircraft. The JSDF has four aircraft deployed at Hamamatsu Air Base, which reportedly will be key during an event of a conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

A Japan Air Self-Defense Force's F-35A stealth fighter jet is seen at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Komaki Minami factory in Toyoyama, Japan
Representation A Japan Air Self-Defense Force's F-35A stealth fighter jet. Reuters / KYODO