On Tuesday, multiple media outlets jumped at the opportunity to report that China has built radar facilities at Cuarteron Reef, Beijing’s southern-most South Pacific sandcastle.
“New radar facilities being developed in the Spratlys, on the other hand, could significantly change the operational landscape,” Gregory Poling of CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said, explaining why the radar installations are actually a bigger deal than the deployment of HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island.
Here’s a bit more from Poling:
Construction of facilities at Cuarteron seems nearly complete and the artificial island now covers about 52 acres (211,500 square meters). Two probable radar towers have been built on the northern portion of the feature, and a number of 65-foot (20-meter) poles have been erected across a large section of the southern portion. These poles appear to be a high-frequency radar installation, as was first speculated on The Diplomat, which would significantly bolster China’s ability to monitor surface and air traffic across the southern portion of the South China Sea. In addition to these radar facilities, China has constructed a buried bunker and lighthouse on the northern portion of the feature, a number of buildings and a helipad in its center, communications equipment to the south, and a quay with a loading crane on the western end of the outpost.
Poling goes on to say that Beijing has likely also put radar installations on other islands in the Spratlys, but that, as it turns out, isn't the big story.
Just moments ago, GOP mouthpiece Fox News said China has now deployed fighter jets to Woody Island, where imagery from ImageSat International (ISI) showed two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers in place earlier this month.
"Chinese Shenyang J-11s (“Flanker”) and Xian JH-7s (“Flounder”) have been seen by U.S. intelligence on Woody Island in the past few days, the same island where Fox News reported exclusively last week that China had sent two batteries of HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles while President Obama was hosting 10 Southeast Asian leaders in Palm Springs," Fox reports, gleefully. "The dramatic escalation cames minutes before Secretary of State John Kerry was to host his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, at the State Department."
"There is no difference between China’s deployment of necessary national defense facilities on its own territory and the defense installation by the U.S. in Hawaii,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Monday, in an effort to play down the buildup on Woody.
China raised eyebrows earlier this year when Beijing landed civilian aircraft on a 10,000 foot airstrip constructed atop Fiery Cross Reef.
We'd love to be a fly on the wall for Kerry's imminent meeting with Wang, who we're sure will tell America's top diplomat what he told the Western media last week: Don't mind the missiles and the warplanes, focus on the lighthouses.
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For those who missed it, here are the images from Woody which depict the SAM deployment: