A fleet of private satellites recently picked up an extraordinary sight in the middle of the South China Sea: a parade of more than 40 warships of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy sailing in formation. The exercise was likely meant as a show of force to China’s neighbors, many of whom contest the country’s territorial claims. The photos also demonstrate the usefulness of commercial space in monitoring military developments worldwide, even in the most remote places. The images show a total of 43 ships steaming in a long line, two abreast, somewhere in the South China Sea. The only clearly identifiable ship is the aircraft carrier Liaoning. At 999 feet long with a full-length flight deck, Liaoning easily stands out. The carrier has an aircraft complement of 24 J-15 fighters and an assortment of helicopters. Several J-15s are visible on the carrier’s flight deck, including two lined up on the carrier’s ski jump for takeoff. Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning, with replenishment ship directly behind it. China is currently engaged in the largest naval buildup in recent memory, building large numbers of modern ships complete with modern missiles and sensors. The ships are split between three different naval commands: the Northern, Eastern, and Southern Theater navies.
Read More: Popular Mechanics