The coolest sandbox in the world

SM reader “busybee” posted an absolutely fascinating link on our News Tab yesterday. It seems that somewhere deep within China, near a village called Huangyangtan, is a 900 x 700 m scale model (you need Google Earth to open this file) of a mountainous region somewhere on Earth. People…that is a model 9 x 7 football fields long! A model anywhere near this scale is usually only constructed when trying to train one’s soldiers how to conquer/hold the terrain in question.

So the million dollar question becomes, “what region on Earth could this be a model of?” Such an answer seems impossible to answer on its face, but sure enough someone with way too much time on their hands was able to solve this puzzle. We have to remember back to the 1962 Sino-India war:

Don’t, however, spend the next three days scouring the world’s mountain ranges trying to find a geographical match: the legwork has already been done for you by this enterprising Google Earth Community member who correctly identified the model as representing this [you need Google Earth to open this file] disputed area on the Chinese/Indian border.

Here’s a comparison of the Chinese model and the Google Earth image of the region in question… [Link]

It’s of territory occupied by China but claimed by India, north and south of the east end of the Karakoram range. The borders in this region are shown in red rather than yellow to indicate the dispute. [Link]

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On two (1,2) previous occasions we have blogged about the fact that Google Earth makes the Indian government very nervous. They feel that their enemies (i.e. Pakistan) will be able to use Google Earth in order to observe their secret installations. However, this supports my theory that Google Earth is the 21st century’s great equalizer. During the Cold War both the Americans and the U.S.S.R had so many nukes that mutual self-destruction was assured and thereby prevented. In modern times everyone has access to Google Earth and can spy on their enemies with ease.

I also want to point out the fact that it is not that unusual that some dude was able to find the exact location on the Earth corresponding to that model. In fact, when I posted this satellite image of SM’s Los Angeles bureau offices, Saheli (who had never been there) was able to figure out the approximate address to within a few hundred yards based on the satellite image alone. Scary, I know. It was skills like that which made her a great SM guest blogger.

In the past couple of days I have made use of Google Maps and Google Earth myself in order to perform counter-surveillance operations. When away from our North Dakota bunker we must remain ever vigilant.

22 thoughts on “The coolest sandbox in the world

  1. hell yeah! Thanks to Google Earth & Wikimapia, now i know what my insti campus really looks like.

    military installations …that’s a long shot!

  2. I was only recently introduced to Google Earth by a friend. I was successfully able to locate every place I looked up in the United States and Europe. When you got past that and I started looking up Mumbai and Maharashtra in general it got really fuzzy. It didn’t really take you to the right addresses or names of towns of close enough to make anything out. So that brings me to how accurate is Google Earth in “remote” locations and classifying them??

  3. Wow, Wikimapia is very nice (and a procrastinator’s heaven). Thanks for the link Softy.

    JOAT: it seems like cities in the US and India are pretty well covered by the satellite images used by google maps (Bombay is available at all-but-the-finest resolution — good enough to see rooftops), but there are smaller cities that are not so well covered — even in the US (like this, for eg.)

  4. So that brings me to how accurate is Google Earth in “remote” locations and classifying them??

    Google Earth buys declassified images from open market. So in principle, vendors sell higher resolution images for western countries – more customers than developing countries.

    There are amazaing images of Tibet, Himalayas – for that matter even Chennai. They have recently brought a better data set for area around India.

    I guess NIMA’s resolution is way higher – But that is highly classified.

  5. I used Google Earth recently in abitration hearings to try and prove the other driver was at fault in a fender bender. I could zoom to the exact intersection of the accident, tilt the viewing angle, and then use Powerpoint to draw in the position of the cars. No word yet on the results of the arbitration. My agent was impressed though :)

  6. but there are smaller cities that are not so well covered

    Sometimes, they blur it because of US laws (Google is an American Company).

    Area around Los Alamos, NM is quite blurred on purpose. Also, Albuquerque – because of the Air Force base.

  7. Interesting, isn’t it?

    Nitin Pai, at the Acorn, also covered this a few days back.

    But why would china need a model of Askai Chin?

  8. But why would china need a model of Askai Chin?

    Karakoram Highway is one of the most militarized highway in the world. China keeps their Himalayas and Tibet like a garrison.

    Also, lot of Pakistan-China defense dealings go through Karakoram Highway.

    In traditional warfare, one who has the highest guns holds the advantage in the subcontinent.

  9. I also want to point out the fact that it is not that unusual

    Oh come on, it’s very unusual. ;-)

    No, that’s pretty impressive. I had a bit of inside knowledge on my scoop, but that’s how the best spying is always done. /nods wisely.

  10. A co-worker and freind at my last job, who is from China, told me that they were never taught about the India-China war of 1962. It could be because 1962 war was a very short lived war, but for India it was real and the damage to Indian forces was significant.

  11. very short lived war, but for India it was real and the damage to Indian forces was significant.

    RC, the real damage was to Indian psyche and confidence as a whole. There were skrimishes that lasted 6 months (June – November, 1962), and were spread over a large region(from Ladakh to Assam to Sikkim, then an Indian protectorate), and was never declared a war.

    I guess Indian Government and the Ordinance factories were concentrating on making pressure-cookers than paying attention to world around them. Indian Army was not trained for high altitude and not even had equipment for high altitude.

    I have had Chinese friends in graduate school who talked about the war, and one of them jokingly said, “We could have walked to Delhi“. That tells a lot about their over-confidence, their upper hand at that time, and India’s vulnerability.

    But it was an important yet painful lesson.

  12. Kush,

    NIMA is now called National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). Their satellites have ability to lock onto certain ‘areas’ for a while, and they have had this for quite a while, you can read this in many novels/thrillers. Their resolution is probably within a coke can in certain atmospheric conditions like no cloud/overcast skies, nice humidity, low pollution, reflectance etc. India has mastered this locking using a similar technique in CARTOSAT, I believe CARTOSAT is unique amongst the satellites which report elevation, becuase it reports elevation in a single pass, all others are way inaccurate compared to CARTOSAT (imho, of course).

    You can buy less than 1×1 m color images from Quickbird and IKONOS. I believe India also has this particular capability, but whats the use? As anybody who has cursorily looked at this knows that as your resolution increases, area of coverage decreases. So you need to ‘lock’ as the satellite passes through. This is what makes it easy to fool spectral satellites, and how India fooled US in 1998. The US Spy satellite/airplane are outed on the Internet by a group of enthusiastic US people, who post the orbit times, altitude, launch date etc. I personally think that this is a no-no, but some people are crazy, they get their kicks on weird things. And of course you need zillions to cover the world 24x7x365. And zillions to analyze this enormous amounts of data. Even with unlimited money, it is difficult for anybody, India has a ways to go. We should partner with the US, because we don’t have this kind of budget.

  13. I personally think that this is a no-no, but some people are crazy, they get their kicks on weird things.

    These are the same type of people that outed the CIA’s secret rendition program. Their hobby was writing down the tail numbers of airplanes that took off from airports around the world. Thank goodness for kooks. :)

  14. You can buy less than 1×1 m color images from Quickbird and IKONOS.

    Amit,

    I have played with Quickbird and IKONOS images for Andaman Islands. In fact, even on internet you can find high-resolution satellite images for pre- and post- Boxer Day tsunami and Andaman Islands. They show all details of flooding and mangroves.

    I agree that these images mean jack unless one has the manpower and budget to look them through and understand.

    In Abhi post, some hacks got a kick out the whole thing and researched thoroughly.

  15. I am not sure how much of a leveler Goog Earth is when you talk of governments. I think countries like India and Pakistan have had access to this kind of imagery for some time – mostly through their “alliances” with more advanced powers.

    To India’s point, I think this imagery is a leveler when you compare governments to insurgents, resistance groups, terrorists, and other low-budget peeps. It may not have given them an iota of useful info on how to bomb the Mumbai trains, but it could be used to do some initial scoping of dams, chemical plants, nuke plants etc.

    By the way, I can certify that I have spent more time with Google Earth than on internet porn in 2006. AMAZING. And that google earth community – quite a roundtable of junkies.

  16. This is absolutely fascinating. Thank you, Abhi, for posting this. I’m not yet sure if the fact that we have the ability to do this is good or bad (haven’t made up my mind yet), but it’s nice to have the information out there.

  17. I’ve heard about a scale model of the Golden Temple that was built at the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun to train soldiers before Operation Bluestar. Has anyone else read or heard anything about this?

  18. Why not spend your time practicing with a full-scale model of Mallika Sherawat instead?

  19. Big Bhapa,

    I’ve heard about a scale model of the Golden Temple that was built at the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun to train soldiers before Operation Bluestar. Has anyone else read or heard anything about this?

    Sikhnet has extensive information on it via their archived discussion forums. You can do a search there for more details.

  20. Speaking of India and China, I’ve been to the restricted zone by the Indo-Chinese border in Sikkim on a school trip to West Bengal and Sikkim. It was an interesting place. We passed check points where each time we were warned “No cameras”.

    Once we got to the border, the military camp was next to a sacred lake with a little temple on its shore. The public was allowed to go up there as long as they followed the rules. When asked what the situation was on the border, the Soldiers replied on their patrols they waved at the guys on the other side and made sure everybody stayed in their own lanes. The area, other than the lake, was pretty desolate and cold. Guys on shit detail in the high altitudes do their job, but they know the folks on the other side are manning the same shit sandwich, too. One of the officers told us a story where some newly wed couple showed up with an expensive SLR camera. They took the film and tossed the camera into the lake, then invited them to eat those weird tibetan samosas and boiled eggs at the lahri’s there. This was back in 1992, so, I don’t know how things are today.

    I can’t remember which lake it was though, Tsomgo or Guru Dongmar. Probably Tsomgo.