New, Clear Photos Give You A Rare Look At The South China Sea Islands That A Top US Commander Says China Has Fully Militarised
- The Chinese bases are a worry for more than just the US. Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Malaysia are just some of the countries that have made claims to the Spratlys and other small islands in the South China Sea.
- The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative says that Vietnam sped up the growth of its own outposts in the Spratlys at the end of 2022.
Want to see what China’s bases look like on islands in the South China Sea? Take a look at some of the shocking pictures that Ezra Acayan of Getty Images took in October.
They show airfields, radar stations, and military planes and ships stationed on the Spratly Islands, which are about 400 miles from the Chinese coast. Beijing has used both natural and man-made islands in the area to build up its military power.
The head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. John Aquilino, said in March that the purpose of these islands is to extend the offensive capabilities of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) beyond their continental shores. PRC is the official name of the country.
From these bases, Chinese forces “can fly fighters, bombers, and all those offensive missile systems,” such as anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles, Aquilino told the Associated Press at the time, calling the islands “fully militarised.”
This picture shows an airfield on Subi Reef, which China claimed in 1988 and has built up to make an artificial island big enough for military installations.
There are clear views of a double runway, hangars, and administrative buildings with several floors.
Missile boats and anti-ship missiles
In this picture of Mischief Reef, you can see Chinese Type 022 Houbei-class fast attack boats with YJ-83 anti-ship missiles. These boats are catamarans.
On land, you can also see what might be land-based missile launchers that are covered. Tom Shugart, a naval expert at the Center for a New American Security, told The Telegraph that “angled cruise missile launchers” could be kept in garages that face the sea.
Gun emplacements on Cuarteron Reef
In 2016, people looked at Cuarteron Reef and saw gun positions. One of Acayan’s photos gives a better look at these weapons stations.
Analysts have seen what they think are 76 mm naval guns on the bottom two levels of a number of tiered towers. On top of the guns is what might be a gun director, and on top of that is a big dome that probably holds a radar.
Chinese airborne radar aircraft on runway
In this picture, a Chinese KJ-500 early warning aircraft is parked on the runway of Fiery Cross Reef. The KJ-500 is based on China’s C-130 Hercules, which is called the Y-9 transport.
The fact that a KJ-500 is there shows that the runways at Fiery Cross Reef are long enough to handle bigger planes, and the hangars are big enough to fit H-6 bombers.
Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, head of the US Pacific Air Forces, said this spring that the KJ-500 “plays a significant role” in China’s ability to use long-range weapons. He also said that “some of their very long-range air-to-air missiles are helped by that KJ-500.”
Port for Chinese warships
This picture of Fiery Cross Reef shows the semi-enclosed waters and facilities that make the island a useful naval base.
In March, the Associated Press reported that it looks like more than 40 boats of different kinds are anchored near Fiery Cross.
These islands have sports fields
In this photo of Fiery Cross Reef, it’s not the runway or buildings that stand out, but the sports field, which looks like it has both a running track and an athletic field.
This means that there are a lot of Chinese troops, since they need places to play to keep their spirits up.
The size of the field, which is marked and looks like it has light poles, shows that the garrison is big enough to need such a perk.
China’s growing reach
The Spratly Islands are important to China from a military point of view. They give Beijing the ability to use air and sea power hundreds of miles away from the Chinese mainland. The bases also let China move its troops closer to important places, like the chokepoints where the Indian and Pacific oceans meet.
China has been ready to use force to keep control of the Spratly Islands, which are closer to Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia geographically. After fighting with Vietnamese ships and troops over Johnson South Reef in 1988, Chinese forces took it over.
The Chinese bases are a worry for more than just the US. Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Malaysia are just some of the countries that have made claims to the Spratlys and other small islands in the South China Sea. The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative says that Vietnam sped up the growth of its own outposts in the Spratlys at the end of 2022.
You can’t say too much about how important these bases are. In times of war, they are vulnerable to bombardment, blockade, or invasion because they are small, flat, and far from mainland China. Even without war, they are a strong reminder of how far China’s military can reach into one of the most important waterways in the world.