Over the last few years, satellite images have picked up the construction of a massive hangar near “Luhe-Ma’ana,” a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) bomber base located approximately 30 miles north of Nanjing in eastern China. The new facility is surrounded by high-security fencing and is “detached” from the main base.
Joseph Trevithick, who writes a column called The War Zone, has obtained satellite images of the progress of its development via Planet Lab and Google Earth, and provides some insight into what its purpose might be. He has included many of these photos in his report.
The images show that work on this “mysterious secluded facility” began in 2017. Trevithick estimates the hangar to be 265 feet long by 245 feet wide, and three stories high.
He believes that “the remote nature of the installation and its fortified perimeter indicate that it is used to support sensitive work.”
There are two layers of fencing around the perimeter. According to Trevithick, there are “guard towers and lights along the northern edge, and gates on the taxiway … that lead to Luhe-Ma’an’s main runway.”
He explains that the facility emerged “ahead of reports that one of the units at this base, the 30th Air Regiment, appeared to be operating the WZ-8, a large high-speed and high-flying rocket-powered spy drone designed to be launched in mid-air from the H-6N missile carrier aircraft. The construction has also come amid persistent rumors about the imminent public debut of China’s H-20 stealth bomber.”
“The primary aircraft based at Luhe-Ma’an are variants of the H-6 bomber, itself derived from the Soviet Tu-16 Badger, including the H-6H, H-6J, and H-6M missile carrier versions.”
Trevithick compared satellite images of this extension to existing ones at other PLAAF bomber bases, “but none of them have the same level of associated infrastructure and security measures, or as are secluded and highly developed, as the one seen at Luhe-Ma’an.”
Ok, here the summary… According to this report, the PLAAF’s 10th Bomber Division got also the latest H-6J replacing either the older H-6H within the 29th or the H-6M within the 30th Air Regiment at Luhe/Ma’an division subordinated to the Eastern Theater Command. pic.twitter.com/SCdDy5FGVk
— @Rupprecht_A (@RupprechtDeino) February 26, 2021
Trevithick is skeptical that this new structure is “simply an expansion of the base’s infrastructure given the distance from the main portion, the additional security perimeter, and the unique set of self-contained facilities there. Typically, these kinds of features point to areas of military bases where uniquely sensitive activities occur.”
Rumoured to have entered service in June 2018, it seems as if this serial number ‘21311’ confirms the WZ-8 being operational within the 10th Bomber Division, a H-6M bomber unit in eastern China facing Taiwan and Japan.
(Image via js7tv via Huitong’s CMA blog) pic.twitter.com/CPL8diRv6B
— @Rupprecht_A (@RupprechtDeino) October 2, 2019
Even if the WZ-8 was unveiled during the 70th anniversary parade on 1st October, their serial numbers have been either erased on most images or covered slightly before the real parade. Now, here are 21311 & 21312 from the 10. Bomber Division.
(Image via Hitong’s CMA-Blog) pic.twitter.com/IbJdk0XBhS
— @Rupprecht_A (@RupprechtDeino) December 11, 2019
He goes into great detail about the capabilities of the WZ-8 and notes that while it’s “no longer secret,” it’s sensitivity may warrant “more specialized facilities, such as the ones at Luhe-Ma’an.”
And he points out that the location of these facilities in eastern China, provides them with “ready access to multiple areas of strategic significance in the western Pacific region.” Think Taiwan and Alaska.
This could be the first clearer image of a H-6MW drone carrier for the WZ-8 high speed high altitude recce UAV. It clearly has a pair of clamp pylon/adaptor to its belly, the regular wing pylons & the small ventral pylon removed but has a new dorsal SATCOM antenna installed. pic.twitter.com/TaGJNVXcGf
— @Rupprecht_A (@RupprechtDeino) April 19, 2021
Trevithick also speculates the new facility could potentially provide a new home for China’s still unveiled H-20 stealth bomber which “has reportedly been in development, at least on some level, since the early 2000s.” Though the Chinese have been very secretive about the H-20, it is “reported to be a flying wing-type design very roughly analogous to the U.S. Air Force’s B-2. The parking/runup area on the apron at the facility in question is roughly the same dimensions as the B-2.”
Reasons why this hangar may have been built to house the H-20, according to Trevithick, are its enhanced security and its ability “to fly, even just for test and evaluation purposes, from an established bomber base. A large hangar would be particularly useful to shield these aircraft from both prying eyes and the elements.”
He notes that the U.S. has built a similar facility at Edwards Air Force Base in California to prepare for the expected 2022 arrival of the B-21 Raider stealth bomber.
There’s also a chance, he says, it “is related, in some way, to the restoration of the PLAAF’s strategic nuclear mission, which formally occurred in 2017, according to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).”
Or the Luhe-Ma’an facility could have been built for something else entirely. Whatever its ultimate purpose, Trevithick is convinced the construction of this hangar and “the other associated infrastructure hidden away within its security perimeter,” are an indication that “some significant and sensitive activity [is] going on at the base.”
While it’s not clear what exactly this is meant to house, it seems evident that civilian infrastructure is not the only thing undergoing rapid construction in the country. Military installations are being expanded and hardened as China surges again. Hangers are just as important as the aircraft they house – these hold the tools, parts, fuel, and experts that keep the warplanes in service.
Regardless of what this facility was built for, it’s simply one more sign of China’s insatiable hunger for domination. It needs to be checked. And if not by the U.S., then by whom.
This is a time for strength. And we are being led by a buffoon.