Mock-Up Patriot System Sparks China-Ukraine Conspiracy Theories

An image has emerged on social media that some widely followed Twitter accounts claim to be a U.S.-made Patriot air defense missile launcher that Ukraine sold to China. One expert, however, tells The War Zone that the undated photograph instead shows a mock-up.

The picture depicts what some have claimed is a Patriot launcher on the back of a flatbed truck being moved in China. This sparked the spread of conspiracy theories on social media.

This image likely shows a Patriot system mock-up, one expert tells us. <em>Via Twitter</em>

This image likely shows a Patriot system mock-up, one expert tells us. Via Twitter

However, what the undated photograph actually shows is a mock-up a former commander of the Army’s Air Defense Artillery School at Fort Sill tells The War Zone.

“Those are what we call dummy canisters on that launcher,” retired Army Col. David Shank told The War Zone. “The umbilical cables coming from the back end of the launchers clearly show it’s either a training launcher or a decoy. Plus, it is so green. Ukrainian launchers, like other nations, get dirty as you maneuver them on hardball roads and/or dirt roads.”

He also noted that the launcher in question is marked “inert” on the side. The image, he said, shows a mock-up of a Patriot PAC-3 system, evident by the four canisters each holding four interceptors a piece.

A closer look shows the word "inert" on the side of the vehicle. <em>Via Twitter</em>

A closer look shows the word “inert” on the side of the vehicle. Via Twitter

We are not certain that the picture was actually taken in China, although it remains possible. A road sign seen in the image has writing in both Chinese and English. There was a bilingual signage effort in China, however authorities in Beijing began to remove English signage last year. Taiwan also uses both languages on its signage so it very well have been taken there. In addition, Taiwan is a PAC-3 Patriot operator. We continue to investigate as to the image’s location.

Shank said he does not know the origin of the mock-up. The U.S. Army, he added, has “dummy” Patriot Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) systems it uses to train troops on how to load the launchers and drive the TEL.

So far, the Oryx open-source tracking group has no record of the Russians having captured any part of a Patriot system. They have however destroyed at least two M901 launchers for MIM-104 Patriot interceptors, Oryx states. That figure could be higher because the group only tabulates losses for which it has visual confirmation. You can see video of one of those systems after being attacked below.

Measures to deceive the enemy have been extensive throughout the war so far, on both sides. In February, we wrote about the emergence of images showing extremely eleborate Ukrainian mock-ups of ground-based air defense systems — among the most prized targets for the opposition.

At the time, images and video emerged on social media of remarkably accurate dummies used by Ukraine to replicate the German-supplied IRIS-T SLM surface-to-air missile system and the U.S.-made AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel radar system.

You can see video of the AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel radar system decoy below:

Other systems, even Su-25 attack jets, have also been replicated in decoy form by Ukraine to great effect. This now includes decoy Patriot launchers.

The use of decoys to distract the enemy and suck up valuable munitions has only been expanding exponentially in recent months.

The U.S. is also looking to elaborate decoys to help survive in grand fight in the Pacific against China.

On the other hand, there has also been a lot of military equipment changing hands in Ukraine. China, like Russia, the U.S. and many other countries try to learn how to reverse engineer as well as defeat captured adversary equipment through foreign material exploitation (FME) programs. Still, we have no evidence that China has received any significant FME intelligence wins from the Ukrainian battlefield, but it is certainly possible, especially via Russia.

Still, China would have a locally-made dummy launcher like this. The use of facsimiles of threat systems are prevalent, in this case to train pilots and sensor operators on how to spot and deal with them in the heat of battle. The U.S. has very high-fidelity mockups of foreign threat systems, especially air defense types, for this exact purpose. You can read all about this here. China is particularly well known for making full scale replicas of all types of things, especially those relating to military hardware.

So, at this point, it seems clear that the image in question does not depict a real Patriot launcher. Beyond that, we hope to learn more.

Update: 5:39 PM –

The truck’s “car plate” appears to be Chinese, based on its combination of a Chinese character followed by Latin-script letters and numbers, according to Defense Politics Asia (DPA), a Singapore-based community-funded think tank.
“So this photo [was] very likely… taken in China,” DPA concluded as a result.

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