How come ‘US’ Patriot was loaded on a truck and ended up in China

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A cargo truck is transporting something strikingly similar to the U.S. Patriot anti-aircraft missile system. This wouldn’t be noteworthy except for its intriguing location – China. Indeed, a photo circulating on social media reveals this very scenario. 

Photo credit: Twitter

The photo’s appearance spurred a flurry of speculation. Some suggested that Russia had handed over a Patriot missile system captured in Ukraine to China. However, this claim remains unverified by Russian, Ukrainian, or Chinese authorities. Notably, Russia has claimed the destruction of at least two Patriot systems, but never their capture. From the photo, it’s evident that this “Patriot” looks brand new, as though it just rolled off the production line.

The Patriot system’s proven effectiveness has made it a top choice for nations seeking to enhance their defensive capabilities. Ukraine is one such nation and is in pursuit of additional systems to counter Russian airstrikes. Ukraine currently operates at least three Patriot systems, with one strategically placed near its capital, Kyiv. These advanced defense systems were acquired through generous donations from the US, Germany, and the Netherlands. Despite facing obstacles, such as the malfunction of one of its batteries, Ukrainian officials remain resolute in their plea for more Patriot systems.

A mock-up

However, an in-depth analysis of a published photo reveals a different story. Experts identified the image as a “VISMOD” [visual modification] training tool used by the People’s Liberation Army [PLA]. Intel analyst Ryan McBeth pointed out inconsistencies between the tire treads and taillights in the photo and those of genuine U.S.-made Patriot systems, challenging the photo’s authenticity. 

The use of mock-ups for training and deception in warfare isn’t a novel tactic. In the current war in Ukraine, both sides have employed dummy assets, including tanks, fighter jets, and mock-up Patriot air defense systems, to mislead enemy forces.

When it comes to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the use of realistic models isn’t a new strategy.  Beijing has long employed this approach, even creating realistic mock-ups of its J-31 fighter jets, which are designed for aircraft carriers. Recent footage confirms that these models are being placed on the decks of China’s new carriers, providing both spatial references and valuable training opportunities.  

Photo credit: Maxar

In terms of training, China has gone to impressive lengths, building a life-size replica of a U.S. aircraft carrier in the desert. And it’s not just carriers; satellite imagery has revealed that there are two realistic mock-ups of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers also situated in the Chinese desert. This was all unveiled before the war in Ukraine, with satellite company Maxar releasing the photos back in November 2021. 

But China’s use of mock-ups doesn’t stop there. This tactic is also employed to divert enemy resources toward false targets, underscoring the tactical value of visual deception in contemporary warfare. 

China is no stranger to creating replicas of military equipment. Even if the truck carrying a mock-up of the Patriot “look-alike” anti-aircraft system isn’t an exact duplicate, it serves the Chinese People’s Liberation Army effectively for training purposes.

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