China deploys military aircraft, 15 warships in Spratlys

Jaime Laude - The Philippine Star
China deploys military aircraft, 15 warships in Spratlys
A Chinese J-11 fighter jet sits on the airstrip at Woody Island in the South China Sea in this satellite photo published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

MANILA, Philippines — Aside from missile systems, China has deployed military aircraft and more than a dozen warships on what appears to be a rotation basis on their man-made islands in the Philippines's Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in the disputed Spratly archipelago.

Satellite imagery monitoring over the disputed region released by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) showed that a Shaani Y-8 military transport aircraft has been deployed at China’s naval and air bases on Zamora (Subi) Reef.

“With this deployment, the military aircraft has now verifiably landed on all three of China’s airstrips in the Spratly Islands,” the AMTI reported.

AMTI’s satellite montiring also recorded the presence of two Xian Y-7 military transport aircraft last January on Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.

In addition to these military transport planes, China has also recently deployed other military platforms to its “Big Three” naval and air outposts on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Zamora and Panganiban Reefs.

These platforms include the YJ-12B anti-ship cruise missiles and HQ-9B surface-to-surface missile systems as well as land-based mobile jamming equipment last March.

“Satellite imagery from April 2016 to the present also captured what are believed to be Harbin Z-8 transport helicopters and a Harbin BZK-005 drone deployed to Woody Island. The BZK-005 is a high-altitude, long-endurance surveillance drone that is well suited to maritime patrol,” the AMTI said.

It added it would not be a surprise at all that one day, these Chinese long-endurance surveillance drones would subsequently appear at China’s military outposts in the KIG.

Tracking surface ships in the South China Sea, the AMTI monitored around 15 Chinese warships and coast guard vessels of various types while anchored on port in its man-made islands on the three reefs.

The AMTI identified many People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and Coast Guard Vessel in the Spraltys, which include the Type 053, Type 053H1, Type 053H1G and Type 053H3 frigates.

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