Glowing projectiles were spotted lighting up the night sky on the first two nights of June in multiple provinces in eastern and central China. These comet-like objects flew in curved trajectories on the horizon and left residents wondering what they were.

Numerous photos posted online suggest the unidentified flying objects were first seen in the wee hours of Saturday in provinces such as Shandong, Liaoning and Hebei, at a time when large portions of the Bohai Sea, plus the Bohai Strait between Shandong and Liaoning, were cordoned off by the People’s Liberation Army for a massive naval drill.

Netizens soon suggested the UFOs streaking across the sky were missiles and projectiles fired by the PLA in the Bohai Sea, the innermost gulf of the Yellow Sea.

Chinese papers reported that the PLA conducted two military exercises in the Bohai Sea on Saturday and Sunday, in waters between Shandong and Liaoning.

More sightings of similar UFOs were reported on Sunday morning, from stargazers living further inland in the central, landlocked provinces of Shanxi and Henan. This could be an indication that missiles launched by the PLA traversed no less than 1,000 kilometers, likely powerful ballistic missiles fired from a submarine.

A photo taken by a resident in Shandong Province shows a projectile flying past clouds. Photo: Weibo
The PLA's solid-fuelled DF ICBMs like the DF-41 can be mounted on trains and launched from the rail platform. Photo: Xinhua
The PLA’s solid-fuelled DF-41 missiles are seen during a military parade. Photo: Xinhua

Some analysts suspect that the missiles concerned could be the JL-3, a third-generation intercontinental ballistic missile powered by solid fuel and launched from a submarine in its final stage of development. It would likely be deployed on a modern Chinese submarine known as the Type 096.

The JL-3 is rumored to have a range of up to 12,000 kilometers, meaning that cities on the west coast of the US like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle were well within its range if fired from China’s littoral waters in the East China Sea. The JL-3 is a variant of the land-based DF-41 missile, the buttress of the PLA’s nuclear deterrence, and can carry multiple warheads.

The drill was held when China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe was in Singapore for this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, along with his US counterpart, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. Wei reportedly warned that the PLA would go to any lengths to defend China’s sovereignty and territory.

In a combative address, Wei reasserted Beijing’s position in the South China Sea and vowed a “fight at all costs” to recapture Taiwan should peaceful attempts to reunify the self-ruled island fail.

The PLA is also expected to marshal subs and warships south into the South China Sea for another exercise scheduled this week.