• Defense analyst H I Sutton said the objects were are aligned north-south
  • The pier is reportedly used by the PLA to hold secret military programs
  • A Chinese catamaran marine survey ship was seen surveying the area in 2019

Satellite images have captured four "mystery objects" off the coast of the Chinese city of Dalian, which analysts believe resemble pillars or buoys.

The images, now visible on Google Earth, were shared by Defense analyst H I Sutton on his Twitter page. The analyst added that these objects were spotted adjacent to a pier used by the Chinese Navy for its submarines and special research projects.

The naval base on the Dalian coast is where the People's Liberation Army Navy reportedly undertakes secretive programs. Earlier, satellite photos provided by Maxar and an analysis of open-source intelligence had revealed that the PLA Navy was testing its large uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) on the pier near Dalian.

According to Sutton, the purpose of these four objects is unclear. However, the images prove that the objects are placed in an aligned manner, hinting at a careful survey carried out in advance.

The objects, forming a rectangle, are aligned north-south. The distance between each object is about 150 meters (490 ft) east-west and 250 meters (820 ft) north-south. No unusual activity has been observed around them since they were put up there. There are no additional markers or cordon, the analyst added.

Sutton believes that the objects might be protecting another object, possibly hidden underneath the surface. That said, there are no visible booms between them. There are also chances that these objects are markers for uncrewed surface or sub-surface vehicles during tests.

They may also be related to undersea sensor networks. China has been building a series of surveillance platforms in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. While many of these sensors are in Chinese waters, several are floating in international waters.

Interestingly, this area was surveyed by the catamaran marine survey ship in December 2019. A combination of images sourced at that time had proved that the ship remained on the spot for several days. The process to place the objects likely began in March-April 2021 over the course of a few weeks, the analyst added in his blog post.

The pier near Dalian, where China is reportedly testing its large USVs, was built in 2016, according to USNI News. Ever since, the Chinese Navy had been using it, giving it a semblance of a military base.

The facility may be used as an overspill for the nearby Xiaopingdao naval base as submarines were often spotted at the pier. Besides, a Type-035 Ming Class boat was also seen performing a pier-side ballast test.

Workers are seen on the deck of China's first aircraft carrier, which finished its maiden sea trial and arrived at Dalian Port, Liaoning province
Workers are seen on the deck of China's first aircraft carrier, which finished its maiden sea trial and arrived at Dalian Port, Liaoning province August 14, 2011. The carrier left its shipyard in Dalian Port in northeast Liaoning province on the morning of August 10th 2011, to begin its first sea trial, according to the official Xinhua news agency, describing the trip as a tentative test run for the unfinished ship. Picture taken August 14, 2011. Reuters