I have a new column at Foreign Policy, as well as a podcast with Aaron Stein, on China’s testing of hit-to-kill technologies against satellites and ballistic missiles. I’ve been trying to figure out where Arms Control Wonk fits in between my columns for Foreign Policy and 38North, on one hand, and Twitter on the other. Stuff like this I guess.
One detail that has cause confusion is the so-called “Korla Missile Test Complex.” According to a State Department cable released by Wikileaks, China conducted the January 2010 missile defense test using an interceptor fired from Korla. There are no previous open source references to this site. (Those cables are located here and here.)
I was going to find the site. Chinese language blogger “KKTT” beat me to it. KKTT identifies a site located at 41°32’16″N 086°22’19″E as the Korla Missile Test Complex. I believe that is correct. It is close to the Chinese city of Kù’ěrlè (库尔勒) or Korla.
You can get a good look at in Google Earth. The site has three main areas: a support base and two launch pads — I’ll call them A and B.
A few points.
First, I looked through catalogues of satellite imagery. China constructed the base between March 16, 2009 (no base is visible) and the November 27, 2009 (all major features are visible.) Here is a pair of images from March and December 2009. That would suggest the site was purpose built for SC-19 testing. That’s probably why we haven’t heard about it before. It’s new.
Second, I checked the Digital Globe/GeoEye catalogue against the dates of the possible launches from Korla. There is an image from January 27, 2013, which will almost certainly show the SC-19 on the pad. (As a nice little detail, other images from January 2013, just before the test, show one of the launch pads has been plowed clean of snow, presumably in advance of the test. We’ll probably order the January 27, 2013 image. Someone should check Astrium. (My plug-in is crashing.) Here are the dates for which I looked: January 11, 2010; September 25, 2010; January 27, 2013; and July 23, 2014.
Note that the September date is inferred from NOTAMs. I can’t find a decent historical database of Chinese NOTAMs, but I bet that might reveal a few more launches from Korla. A picture of the site from September 25, 2010 might confirm that a test occurred.
In the meantime, here is snow clearance a few days before the January 2013 launch at Launch Pad A. Launch Pad B is buried in snow.
Third, I don’t know who runs the site. It is probably the General Armaments Department, but I don’t see any open source references in sources like the Directory of PRC Military Personalities to missile test facilities near Korla. If the Korla Missile Test Complex is a GAD facility, then I would expect it to have a base number in the 30s unless it is attached to an older, existing element. I am not sure whether personnel live elsewhere near Korla or deploy for short periods of time.
Update | 11:08 am PST There are a bunch of other interesting sites around Korla that I didn’t mention. Sean O’Connor identifies more in a piece for Jane’s that I had missed. I’ll further update when he has a chance to send the stuff along.