Aerospace experts say that satellite images taken three months before a Chinese spy balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina showed a never-before-seen Chinese military blimp.
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A large blimp developed by the Chinese military has been spotted for the first time at a remote base in the desert of northwestern China, exclusive new satellite imagery obtained by CNN shows.
Aerospace experts say the images, taken three months before a Chinese spy balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina, could signal a notable advancement in China’s airship program, demonstrating a more versatile and maneuverable craft than previously seen or known.
The images, taken in November 2022 by US satellite imaging company BlackSky, show a roughly 100-foot long blimp in the middle of a nearly kilometer-long runway at a desert military complex in northwestern China. CNN presented the imagery to a number of aerospace experts, who confirmed they show a blimp and runway, bookended by a pivot point used to launch airships, as well as a massive, nearly 900-foot airship hangar.
Oklahoma Aerospace Institute executive director Jamey Jacobs said a blimp like this could be used as a “submarine of the skies,” and that it appears to have dedicated propulsion and navigation capabilities, which would allow it to loiter over an area for an extended period.
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“It really is the next leap for them in terms of furthering the engineering and support of research funding in that direction,” Jacobs said.
CNN reached out to several congressional and administration offices familiar with US intelligence on China who would not speak directly about the base or the blimp.
A senior Defense Department official declined to comment on what threats the blimp represents in China’s arsenal but said since it’s visible, the Pentagon would be aware.
“You can expect because it’s available via satellite imagery that we’re tracking the object,” the official said.
The CIA declined a request for comment. The National Security Council did not respond to a request.
Two current senior officials and one former senior administration official have reported that a Chinese spy balloon collected intelligence from sensitive U.S. military locations, despite efforts by the U.S. to prevent this.