Tags: Satellite Images | South China Sea | Runway | Fiery Cross Reef

Satellite Images Show China Building Runway on Contested Island

By    |   Thursday, 16 April 2015 11:17 AM

Satellite Images Show China Building Runway on Contested Island
(CNES, Distribution Airbus DS, via IHS)
Satellite images show China is building a runway on a contested island in the South China Sea that will accommodate military aircraft such as fighter jets and surveillance planes, giving the Communist nation a major strategic advantage.

Military analysts have long specualated that China was planning to build the runway on Fiery Cross Reef, a part of the Spratly Islands, reports The New York Times. And on Thursday, Jane's Defense Weekly released a satellite image proving the construction is under way.

The image, shot on March 23, shows the first section of the runway on the island, which sits in an archipelago that's being claimed by China and at least two other countries. The satellite shot also shows that work is underway on an apron that will be used to taxi or park planes.

The new runway is expected to stretch to about 10,000 feet long, which can handle fighter jets and surveillance aircraft, and Peter Dutton, professor of strategic studies at the Naval War College, told The Times that the construction marks a significant issue in the fight for control of the South China Sea.

“This is a major strategic event,” Mr. Dutton said. “In order to have sea control, you need to have air control.”

Dutton said China is also likely to install radar and missiles to intimidate the Philippines and Vietnam, which also are are staking claim to the Spratly Islands. Further, the construction will allow China to expand its competition zone with the United States.

The South China Sea has already been the site of several encounters between American and Chinese forces, including a near-collision in 2001 between a Chinese fighter jet and an American EP-3 spy plane.

China has also been working on a reclamation project to convert reefs in the South China Sea into islands that can handle military needs.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said during his recent trip to Japan that the project is intensifying tensions between China and the United States and hurting the possibility of coming to a diplomatic solution.

The Fiery Cross Reef landing strip construction appears to have been going only in recent weeks, as another satellite image taken on Feb. 6 and released on Thursday, shows there was nothing on the site.

“We absolutely think it is for military aircraft, but of course an airstrip is an airstrip — anything can land on it if it’s long enough,” said James Hardy, Asia-Pacific editor for Jane’s Defense Weekly told The Times. “Three thousand meters is big enough for pretty much any aircraft,” he said, pointing out that the super-jumbo Airbus A380 takes just 2,950 meters, or just under 10,000 feet to land.

“The main question is, What else would land there?” Hardy said. “Unless they are planning to turn these into resorts — which seems unlikely, not least given the statement from the Foreign Ministry last week — then military aircraft are the only things that would need to land there.”

Last week, China's Foreign Ministry claimed its reef reclamation efforts were for civilian use, but also to satisfy "the need of necessary military defense."
China claims control of the sea, based on a line drawn in the 1940s that other countries do not recognize.

Officials from China and the Philippines, a key U.S. ally in the region, have called for a diplomatic solution for the ongoing standoff over control of the region, but both vowed to fight for their claims.

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Satellite images show China is building a runway on a contested island in the South China Sea that will accommodate military aircraft such as fighter jets and surveillance planes, giving the Communist nation a major strategic advantage.
Satellite Images, South China Sea, Runway, Fiery Cross Reef
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2015-17-16
Thursday, 16 April 2015 11:17 AM
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