China's Biggest South China Sea Bases Are Ready to Use
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, a project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says that China has now completed construction of military and dual-use infastructure at Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross Reefs in the South China Sea. AMTI warns that the People's Liberation Army can now deploy fighter aircraft to these islands whenever it chooses, giving China the ability to project air superiority over almost all of its “nine-dash line” maritime claims. China’s advanced radar coverage is almost as good, and preparations for the installation of air defense missiles are complete.
At Fiery Cross Reef, high-resolution satellite imagery shows that Chinese workers have built enough hardened concrete hangers to house 24 fighters and four bombers. Multiple large radomes and sensor arrays are emplaced at each end of the island. At Mischief Reef, 24 hangars for combat aircraft and five hangars for larger aircraft are now complete. Large radar towers and hardened anti-air missile bunkers are under construction.
Like the others, Subi Reef also has 24 hangars for fighters plus four more for bombers, in addition to radars and short range anti-missile systems. Unlike the others, Subi has a massive antenna array that appears similar to the defunct AN/FLR-9 "Elephant Cage" system, a Cold War-era design used for direction finding of radio signals at very long range. The nearest similar American installation was at Clark AFB in the Philippines; it has long since been converted to a covered amphitheater. The last functioning FLR-9, at JB Elmendorf-Richardson in Germany, was decommissioned last year.
In response to questions about AMTI’s new report, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on Tuesday that the islands were Chinese territory. "As for China deploying or not deploying necessary territorial defensive facilities on its own territory, this is a matter that is within the scope of Chinese sovereignty," she said.
L to R: Installation at Subi Reef; FLR-9 at Elmendorf; former FLR-9 at Clark AFB, now a cloth-covered amphitheater