Satellite imagery from US satellite imaging company BlackSky, showcases a large Chinese military blimp at a remote desert base in northwestern China.
The images, captured in November 2022, suggest a significant advancement in China’s airship program, revealing a more versatile and maneuverable craft than previously known.
Aerospace experts have confirmed that the images show a roughly 100-foot-long blimp on a nearly a half-mile-long runway, a pivot point for launching airships, and an approximately 900-foot hangar. Jamey Jacobs, executive director of the Oklahoma Aerospace Institute, stated that the blimp could be utilized as a “submarine of the skies,” as it appears to have dedicated propulsion and navigation capabilities, enabling it to remain over an area for an extended period. Jacobs noted that this development is “the next leap for them in terms of furthering the engineering and support of research funding in that direction.”
The discovery has confirmed that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) program now utilizes all three types of airships: blimps, aerostats, and free-floating balloons. According to Eli Hayes, a researcher who has studied the Chinese airship program for years, the appearance of the blimp at a Chinese military facility signifies a notable transition in Chinese blimp technology and research from civilian to military applications.
William Kim, a surveillance balloon specialist at The Marathon Initiative, a non-profit military and diplomatic research organization, speculated that the blimp might be part of a testing program. Although the blimp’s role in the Chinese military’s overall organizational structure remains uncertain, recently reassigned patents indicate the creation of a unit to oversee the technology.
Hayes revealed that a new PLA group, Unit 63660, now holds several patents related to airship technologies. Further analysis of the site’s activity and the hangar complex’s expansion implies that China is ramping up its airship program, with the potential emergence of a large airship from the hangar as a key indicator.
Despite contacting several congressional and administration offices familiar with US intelligence on China, many news outlets, including CNN, have not received direct comments on the base or the blimp. A senior Defense Department official declined to comment on the potential threats the blimp poses in China’s arsenal, but mentioned that since it is visible, the Pentagon would be aware and tracking the object. Meanwhile, the CIA declined to comment, and the National Security Council did not respond to a request.