Satellite Images Indicate Militarization on Spratlys
Recent satellite photographs show China appears to have built reinforced aircraft hangars on its holdings in the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea, the New York Times reported on Monday.
There were no military aircraft seen at the time the photos were taken in late July but the hangars have room for any fighter jet in the Chinese air force, the Times said, citing an analysis of the photos by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank.
The hangars were constructed on Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs, part of the Spratly Islands. China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.
The images have emerged about a month after an international court in The Hague ruled against China's sweeping claims in the resource-rich region, a ruling emphatically rejected by Beijing.
The United States has urged China and other claimants not to militarize their holdings in the South China Sea. China has repeatedly denied doing so, saying the facilities were for civilian and self-defense uses, and in turn criticized U.S. patrols and exercises for ramping up tensions in the region.
Each of the three islets will soon have hangar space for 24 fighter jets plus three to four larger planes. The hangars all show signs of structural strengthening, CSIS said.
“The construction on Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief reefs follows a standard blueprint,” states CSIS. “The smallest and most numerous hangars are being built with four to six hangars per building. They can easily accommodate any fighter-jet in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), including the J-11 and Su-30. The second type of hangar is large enough for the H-6 bomber and H-6U refueling tanker, Y-8 transport aircraft, and KJ200 Airborne Warning and Control System plane. The largest of the hangars can accommodate the largest planes in the PLAAF fleet—the Y-20 and Il-76 transport planes, Il-78 refueling tanker, and KJ-2000 surveillance aircraft.”
“They are far thicker than you would build for any civilian purpose,” Gregory Poling, director of CSIS's Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, told the Times. “They're reinforced to take a strike.”
In addition to the rapid construction of hangars, unidentified hexagonal structures are quickly being built at four locations on each islet, always oriented toward the sea. Each has three towers, one larger than the other two. The towers do not have domes indicative of radar.