New Photos Show China’s Artificial Islands Are Highly Developed Military Bases — Radio Free Asia

New images have emerged showing airfields and other structures on some of China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea which the US says have been “fully militarized”.

Getty Image photographer Ezra Acayan has gained flight access near a number of reefs and rocks that China has reclaimed and turned into military bases with radar stations, airstrips and artillery installations.

Photos taken on Oct. 25 show another dimension of China’s man-made islands, so far mostly captured on satellite images.

US Indo-Pacific Commander, Adm. John C. Aquilinosaid in March that China had fully militarized at least three man-made islands, including Mischief Reef, Subi Reef and Fiery Cross, all in the Spratly archipelago over which Beijing claims “historic rights”.

Life on Fiery Cross

Getty photos provide detailed details of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) installations on Mischief Reef, Gaven Reefs, Subi Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef and Hughes Reef – six of the 15 spratly Chinese-occupied formations.

Fiery Cross Reef appears to be one of the most developed, with a fully operational airfield, hangars, other large buildings, and radomes, or domes with radar equipment inside.

A new type of building spotted on Fiery Cross, as well as Mischief and Subi Reefs, is a garage-like structure that could house missile launchers, analysts say.

“I assume the sea-facing garages are for inclined cruise missile launchers,” wrote Tom Shugart, deputy principal investigator at the Center for a New American Security. on Twitter.

Another analyst, Tyler Rogoway, editor of defense news portal The War Zone, said they could “be used to house, maintain and rapidly deploy” launchers used to fire surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship or ground-to-ground. missiles.

Shugart also noted other details such as “a car driving around Fiery Cross and someone walking down a street”.

“It’s not the crowd, but it’s not nothing either,” he wrote.

Three weeks ago Chinese state media reported that there is a growing population of more than 5,000 “officers and soldiers stationed” on the islands and reefs that China occupies in the South China Sea.

A KJ-500 military aircraft on the runway at Fiery Cross, October 25, 2022. CREDIT: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

Radomes and turrets

In one of the Fiery Cross images, a KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft is visible on the runway.

“The image of a KJ-500 on the runway is compelling and confirms that the PLA still conducts regular aerial patrols off the islands,” said Greg Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). said FRG.

“It’s been going on since 2020,” he added.

According to The War Zone’s Rogoway, the KJ-500 and other intelligence-gathering and submarine-hunting aircraft “operate frequently out of the airfield there.”

Radomes, turrets, and close-in weapons systems to detect and destroy incoming missiles and aircraft are common features of all artificial islands.

On Subi Reef, the main track is blocked by several objects, possibly vehicles or carts.

“This is a dangerous act, hostile to anyone else flying in the area,” because pilots of an aircraft in genuine distress may miss the blockade and crash, according to Shugart.

“This again belies the idea that these islands were built for everyone’s safe navigation,” the Fort Hood-based analyst said.

“These are military bases, period.”

China and five other parties claim parts of the South China Sea, including features that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea calls reefs and rocks, not islands.

By law, reefs and rocks have much more limited rights to natural resources than islands.

Beijing has developed at least seven artificial islands, creating 1,295 hectares (3,200 acres) of new land since 2013, according to CSIS’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

On a trip to Washington in 2015, Chinese leader Xi Jinping said “China has no intention of continuing to militarize” man-made islands in the South China Sea, but critics say they develop the offensive capacity of the PLA and threaten other countries nearby.

Comments are closed.