Featured Image: Satellite photo dated March 26, 2018, shows Chinese ships south of Hainan, China. (Planet Labs)
Beijing put on a massive show of force on March 26, 2018, with more than 40 of its navy's ships sailing in formation with its sole operational aircraft carrier for one of the first times ever in the South China Sea, but a close look at the exercise shows something way off.
Satellite imagery of the event, provided by Planet Labs, shows the incredible scale of the exercise, which mostly consisted of rows of two ships lined up neatly.
The formation makes a good photo opportunity, but it's not practical for battle.
China showed off frigates, destroyers, aircraft, submarines, and an aircraft carrier, but a few US bombers could likely smoke the whole formation in a single pass.
"While impressive view, they would be a rich target pool for four B-1s bombers with 96 newly fielded long-range anti-ship cruise missiles," Hans Kristensen, a military expert and the Director of the Nuclear Information Project tweeted, referring to the US's B-1B Lancer bomber.
An Air Force B-1B Lancer aircraft (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway)
The ships were not in a usual combat formation and left exposed to air attacks that could devastate a large portion of the force outright in a battle.
Though the huge formation "highlights an extensive ability to deploy, we are still left to guess at the [Chinese Navy's] combat readiness," Collin Koh, a security expert at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told Reuters.
China has worked hard to improve the practicality and capability of its navy in recent years, but as a force with virtually no combat experience, it still lags a long way behind the US Navy and other tested forces.