In order to implement various projects of a military and scientific nature, China is building a variety of new facilities. So, a few years ago a new airfield appeared at the Lop Nor training ground. Construction work on this site continues to this day, and in the near future, their result may be the emergence of a full-fledged air base with all the necessary facilities. At the same time, the airfield is not mentioned in any way in official messages from the state structures of the PRC, and its tasks are not reported.
At the old training ground
In 1964, China conducted its first nuclear tests. The landfill for them was the bottom of the dried-up Lake Lob Nor in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and this site has been actively used for three decades. Until 1996, inclusive, the PLA carried out about 45 atmospheric, ground and underground detonations. After the termination of nuclear tests, the Lop Nor test site did not stand idle and was used in activities of a different kind.
In 2016, foreign media reported on new construction at a former nuclear test site. Fresh satellite images of the area showed that a hundred kilometers to the north-west of the dried-up lake, a new airfield had appeared with three runways, dirt and concrete. Also, a limited number of various buildings of unknown purpose were erected on it. When and why this airfield was built is unknown, although various assumptions have been expressed.
The possible destination of the airfield became known last year. In September 2020, China launched its first reusable spacecraft. The flight lasted only a couple of days, after which the ship returned to the ground and landed at the Lop Nor airfield. Soon after landing, he was photographed by one of the foreign satellites. These images attracted a lot of attention from specialists and the public.
A few days ago, on July 1, the American news agency NPR published new images of the Lop Nor landfill provided by Maxar. The photographs, dated June 28, show that construction at the airfield is ongoing. Several new roads and sites have been added alongside the main runway, where various buildings are being constructed or under construction.
It is curious that the official Beijing does not comment on the news of recent years in any way. In light of the Chinese approach to news reporting, this is not surprising. At the same time, the lack of official information provokes the emergence of various versions - and some of them may be plausible.
The airfield of the Lopnor test site is located northwest of the lake of the same name and north of the Tamir Plain. It can be found at coordinates 40 ° 46'48.0 "N 89 ° 16'12.0" E. Three runways in the form of an equilateral triangle are located over a large area. Two of them, western and northern, are made of unpaved ones. The southern one has a concrete surface and is probably the main one.
The concrete runway is about 5 km long. Its ends are marked "05" (western) and "23" (eastern). To the north-east of the main strip, there is a ground strip with a length of more than 2, 6 km. From the center of the concrete strip, to the southeast, there is a taxiway leading to the only parking lot with a hangar. Numerous unpaved transport roads have been laid near the runway.
Satellite images, now available on Google Maps, show the state of the airfield infrastructure in the recent past. So, at a short distance from the western end of the concrete runway, there are two fenced areas with several buildings. Judging by the size and layout, these are residential buildings and other objects for the garrison. Two groups of small structures, incl. camouflaged ones are available near both ends of the runway.
Several buildings were located near the side taxiway. On the site to which it leads, the only hangar at the airbase is located. Another cluster of buildings can be observed further away from the walkway. Another road departs from the unpaved extension of the main lane, along which you can get to a stationary radar station with a characteristic spherical casing on the roof.
Various caponiers, prepared positions for defense, etc. are scattered practically throughout the airfield. It is especially worth noting several areas of a characteristic type - there are tanks or some kind of equipment under camouflage nets.
In the process of development
In fresh photos from Maxar, all the listed objects remain in their places, the configuration of the runways does not change. At the same time, new ones appear next to the old structures. So, to the south of the parking lot with a hangar, you can see several new buildings, a number of projects under construction and numerous equipment. It seems that some of the new buildings will be located in fenced areas.
It is still impossible to determine the purpose of the new buildings. Judging by the size and location, these can be administrative or other buildings. One of the structures can become the basis for another radar station for one purpose or another. It should also be noted that the new construction sites and the runway parking are not connected by paved roads - perhaps only for the time being.
Based on the results of current work, the airfield of the Lop Nor landfill may receive a number of new opportunities for receiving, maintaining and operating aircraft of different classes. All this indicates that the airfield is planned to be used in some projects, possibly of high importance. However, one should not hope that the official structures will soon release information of this kind - if they ever disclose it at all.
Lake Lop Nor and the polygon of the same name are located in a remote and deserted area, which makes them an ideal place for various secret events. It is possible to monitor activity in this area only with the use of satellite reconnaissance equipment, which has objective limitations and does not always allow collecting all the desired information.
The reasons for the appearance of a new airfield at Lobnor are obvious. China is going to carry out some work and activities on it, and the infrastructure development observed now is aimed at obtaining new opportunities. At the same time, the goals and objectives of such construction remain unknown - but various assumptions are already being expressed.
First of all, in the context of the airfield, last year's news about the first Chinese reusable spacecraft should be remembered. The launch of this product took place at the Jiuquan cosmodrome, and the landing site was not officially announced. At the same time, foreign satellites noticed the ship on the day of landing at the Lop Nor airfield. At that time, it had limited infrastructure, the current construction had not yet begun. However, the base could already receive aerospace equipment.
Thus, construction at the test site should be linked with the Chinese rocket and space program, or rather, with the promising direction of reusable orbital aircraft. Such a technique needs not only a cosmodrome, but also a runway, and the Lop Nor test site gives it a similar object. It is to be expected that there will be new reports of launches and landings of reusable ships in the future.Most likely, they will land again at the former nuclear test site.
The dimensions of the existing strips, concrete and unpaved, make it possible to receive aircraft with low landing characteristics, characterized by high mileage. Thanks to this, China will be able to land on Lopnor not only an experienced spaceplane of the first model, but also larger ships that can be expected in the future.
The specialized foreign press proposes not to be limited only to the rocket and space application of the new airfield. It is assumed that it can become a full-fledged air base for testing all new technologies and projects - like the notorious "Area 51" in the United States. The geographic features of the test site will preserve the secrecy of the projects, and the infrastructure facilities under construction will provide full testing of products of different classes.
If the airfield is being modernized not only in the interests of the space program, the most interesting news can be expected in the future. Foreign satellites will continue to monitor the test site and sooner or later will photograph unknown samples of aviation or other equipment, demonstrating the latest achievements of Chinese science.
Objective and Presumptive
At the moment, it is reliably known about the existence of the airfield, about its gradual modernization, as well as about its use within the framework of the space program. All other information is indicative and may not correspond to reality. This state of affairs is not surprising - China never discloses the progress of work on secret projects and talks only about finished developments, and not always and not all.
However, in this case, too, it is clear that the Chinese industry continues to work on promising projects and is preparing objects for testing or full-scale use of new samples. And in the foreseeable future, there will be new reports of foreign media on similar topics, which will tell you what kind the airfield has acquired and what it is used for.