China has reportedly completed an airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef, one of the islands Beijing has constructed in the South China Sea.
Back in April, satellite images which appeared to show that construction had commenced on the runway set off alarm bells in the US and among Washington’s regional allies in the South Pacific.
Since then, China’s land reclamation efforts in the disputed waters around the Spratlys have sparked an international furor and touched off a war of words between Washington and Beijing, with the Pentagon assuring China that the US Navy will continue to operate as before in the region and the PLA claiming it will enforce a no-fly zone over the islands “if threatened.”
Although China recently claimed to have largely finished the dredging effort, construction atop the islands is moving forward and as Reuters reports, the airstrip on Fiery Cross, first spotted some three months ago, looks to be complete. Here’s more:
China has almost finished building a 3,000-meter-long (10,000-foot) airstrip on one of its artificial islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea, new satellite photographs of the area show.
A U.S. military commander had told Reuters in May that the airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef could be operational by year-end, although the June 28 images suggest that could now be sooner.
The airstrip will be long enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircraft, security experts have said, giving Beijing greater reach into the heart of maritime Southeast Asia.
The latest photographs were taken by satellite imagery firm DigitalGlobe and published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. (amti.csis.org/)
AMTI said the airstrip was being paved and marked, while an apron and taxiway had been added adjacent to the runway.
Two helipads, up to 10 satellite communications antennas and one possible radar tower were visible on Fiery Cross Reef, it said. The images also showed a Chinese naval vessel moored in a port.
Here's the latest image and commentary on Fiery Cross from AMTI...
As of June 28, 2015, China is expanding the construction of its island facilities on Fiery Cross Reef. The construction of a 3,000 meter airstrip is nearly complete. China continues to pave and mark the airstrip and an apron and taxiway have been added adjacent to the runway. Prior photos showed that a small lake existed in the middle of the island; this has since been filled in. Personnel are now visible walking around the island.A sensor array has also been constructed and additional support facilities are being built. Meanwhile, a naval vessel is moored in the port. The size of the island is estimated at 2,740,000 square meters. The island has a partially-developed port with nine temporary loading piers. The harbor area is approximately 630,000 square meters. Two helipads, up to 10 satellite communications antennas, and one possible radar tower are also visible. Also visible are two lighthouses and one cement plant.
...and here's more on Johnson South Reef
South Johnson Reef was one of the first facilities to finish principal land reclamation. Since the seawalls have gone up, China has added a small port with limited berth space and two loading stations. The harbor area is approximately 3,000 square meters with an entrance 125 meters wide. There are two helipads on the reef and up to three satellite communications antennas. A large multi-level military facility is in the center of the reef with two possible radar towers under construction. Up to six security and surveillance towers are being built with four possible weapons towers also under construction. Agricultural facilities, a lighthouse, and a possible solar farm with 44 panels, in addition to two wind turbines, have been sighted.
As for the Chinese foreign ministry's contention that Beijing's construction efforts are nearly complete, that remains to be seen and indeed, Reuters notes that construction is continuing on two nearby islets. Their names: "Subi" and "Mischief".
(Photo taken from Philippine military plane appears to show mischief at Mischief)