China completes major militarised islands

From AMTI:

Just over a year ago, former director of national intelligence James Clapper wrote a letter to Senator John McCain predicting that China would complete its offensive and defensive facilities in the Spratly Islands in late 2016 or early 2017. He wasn’t far off the mark. Major construction of military and dual-use infrastructure on the “Big 3”—Subi, Mischief, and Fiery Cross Reefs—is wrapping up, with the naval, air, radar, and defensive facilities that AMTI has tracked for nearly two years largely complete. Beijing can now deploy military assets, including combat aircraft and mobile missile launchers, to the Spratly Islands at any time.

China’s three air bases in the Spratlys and another on Woody Island in the Paracels will allow Chinese military aircraft to operate over nearly the entire South China Sea. The same is true of China’s radar coverage, made possible by advanced surveillance/early-warning radar facilities at Fiery Cross, Subi, and Cuarteron Reefs, as well as Woody Island, and smaller facilities elsewhere. China has maintained HQ-9 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems on Woody Island for more than a year and has on at least one occasion deployed anti-ship cruise missiles to the island. It has now constructed hardened shelters with retractable roofs for mobile missile launchers on the Big 3.

Fiery Cross Reef

Construction of all the hangars at Fiery Cross Reef—enough to accommodate 24 combat aircraft and four larger planes (such as ISR, transport, refueling, or bomber aircraft)—has finished. In January, radomes were installed atop three previously unidentified large towers on the northeast arm of the reef as well as a tower at the north end of the airstrip. A large collection of radomes installed to the north of the airstrip represents a significant radar/sensor array.

Mischief Reef

On Mischief Reef, the hangars for 24 combat aircraft have been completed and in early March construction teams were putting the finishing touches on five larger hangars. A finished radar tower stands in the middle of the reef and a trio of large towers have been constructed on the southwestern corner. The recent placement of a radome on the ground next to one of these towers indicates that they will follow the same pattern as the identical sets at Fiery Cross and Subi. Retractable roofs are also being installed on the recently-built missile shelters.

Subi Reef

On Subi Reef, construction is complete on hangars for 24 combat aircraft and four larger hangars. Recent imagery shows the radomes on Subi’s three-tower array in various stages of completion, along with a completed radar tower next to the runway. Subi Reef also sports what appears to be a high-frequency “elephant cage” radar array on its southern end. This is unique among the Big 3. As with radar facilities at the other reefs, this high-frequency radar is close to a point defense structure, providing protection against air or missile strikes.

Houses and Holes


  1. Didn’t the Wise Man build his house on the rock? And these are literally built on sand?
    I remember years ago hearing that a lot of San Francisco is on reclaimed land, and given the Big One earthquake scenario will just bubble and liquefy and settle into the sea. Wouldn’t that be the same for these islands given a major geological event of whatever origin?

  2. reusachtigeMEMBER

    Good to see China protecting themselves against American aggression, something that sadly much of the rest of the world has not been able to do! I love the Chinamen for their far superior systems especially around housing investment!!

    • They have the resources and governance structure to make things happen quickly. Despite a long list of misgivings, you have to admire them for their tenacity.

      Meanwhile, back at home we may or may not have a Snowy 2.0 in maybe five years, or maybe more.

  3. Casino diplomacy to the rescue. Trump and Packer can do a joint casino project on one of the islands, staffed by refugees from Manus or Nauru. That would tick all of the MT’s boxes.

  4. “China already has a substantial presence in the South Pacific theatre. In a now-infamous simulated air war, China emerged victorious. This was not through any technological advantage, but sheer numbers and logistics. The Chinese strategy was simple: Knock out Taiwanese airbases first, followed by American AWACs and aerial tankers. With these assets gone, even the “superior” American fighters are limited in what they can do thanks to concerns about range. (It should be noted that this test was done with Su-35s)

    Combine this with the development of an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) or “carrier killer” and Chinese strategy becomes clear. Simple area denial. Chinese forces would not have to engage American fighters directly, simply knock out their support structure (AEW&C, aerial tankers, etc.) A stealthy J-20 could even evade detection long enough to guide an ASBM to its target. ”

    From a Canadian military aviation obsessive who spent three years railing against the foolishness of purchasing the F35 and posted a lot of interesting pieces on the other choices available. Canada eventually went with the Boeing Super Hornet, but the author thinks that can only be an interim choice. Take politics out of the equation and the Saab looks like the best option to my amateur eyes.

    • I would add that drones will trump manned fighters in 10 years anyway. For the price of an F18 you can build three nEUROn. Sure they are less powerful but you have near 0 pilot attrition, smaller radar print and they are easier to maintain. Also there is the psychological component of swarms for pilots engaging with large formations of UAVs. In the end numbers matter. WWII was won industrially and the next conflict won’t be any different.

      • Drones were beating manned fighters several years ago – what are you talking about ? Including in a dog fight, especially in a dog fight. Further China is miles ahead in super long range scram jet (hypersonic) air to air.

        Whats more drones can now operate autonomously in complete area denial incorporating hundreds, thousands of them.

      • Mark, as far as the general consensus goes, manned aircraft on a one-to-one combat against UAV still win. If you can provide evidence to back your statements (and having done a Master´s it should be a couple of clicks) then I will gladly acknowledge it. The main issue I have seen why UAVs haven´t taken over is that drones are still tethered to a remote pilot and are therefore vulnerable in a confrontation with a nation capable to neutralizing their comms. China could neutralize drones if attacked by them but wouldn´t be able to project beyond either because of the same problem, so all the talk about China being miles ahead is just silly. In any case, fully independent drones carrying lethal weapons is another can of worms that is best left unopened.

    • Did one of my masters in a lot of this area.

      The Dong Feng class made most of the American carrier fleet obsolete years ago – China copied the Russian military strategy of instead of going toe to toe an escalating battle of carriers and force projection – fight the United States with superior missile tech – which Russia has been dominant at since jets and rockets were first created.

      The Russians started with the Sunburner class.

      China’s Dong Feng and other anti-carrier interncontinental ballistic missiles can reach almost to Darwin and take out a carrier – hence total area denial. And also the reason why the US has stationed their fleet there – out of range.

      There is ZERO defence to this class which is hypersonic, and has ultra-evasive attack patterns plus an 800 meter detonation range. (Plus multiple war head and deployed from mobile platforms including subterranean train system).

      Basically it has an attack vector which looks like a swerving, diving, looping, crazed falcon travelling so fast that by the time it is even spotted it is too late. It detonates outside the range of on board defensive cannons and its blast travels through the ships breaking them in half.

      HOLY SHIT.

      Anyway – China ALSO recently announced they have break throughs in Quantum Radar technology. This allows them to use entanglement to detect stealth aircraft, what weapons they are carrying, even who is on board. Astonishing stuff – this has now been performed at ranges out to 100km.

      With these deployed across the smaller Islands this means the Chinese have rendered the US most powerful weapon – stealth – and the entire F-35 completely and utterly redundant.

      When you consider that the F-358 sacrificed dog fighting, bombing, long range, air support all in preference for being a multi-role (good at everything, master of nothing) and stealth – it looks like it is totally redundant.

      Shocking stuff.

      • Ronin8317MEMBER

        The US Air Fleet has been obsolete for a long time, and they know it : the effort to protect the air craft carrier overwhelms its strategic value in wars against a country with a modern arsenal. It is a sitting duck. The strategy is to forcing other countries to spend significant resources on countering the Air Craft Carrier Fleet while developing the next generation of weapons, and it’s working : you can’t use Google search to find what the US have up its sleeves.

        As Sun Tzu once said “Appear weak when you’re strong, appear strong when you’re weak”. It is obvious who is appearing weak, and who is appearing strong right now.

      • ChinajimMEMBER

        Could we please have some references for all this “shocking stuff” Mark?

        Evidently you haven’t done one of your masters in physics. Dong Feng is “hyperosonic” – well whoopee ding! Of course it is, it’s a bloody ballistic missile! Dropping words like “hypersonic” as if they are impressive isn’t very, well, impressive.

        Curious to know how something going hypersonic can be “ultra-evasive” with the attack vector you’ve described without breaking up or burning up. Please show me some credible references to this. Fascinating from an aerodynamic point of view.

        Could you please also explain what you mean by an “800 meter detonation range”? Do you mean it is lethal to a radius of 800m? If so, lethal to what? That sort of effect is only possible with a nuke.

        I’d also be interested in any reference to the terminal guidance of a ballistic missile hitting a carrier doing 35 knots whilst said missile is performing like a swallow.


      • Hope their missiles are more reliable than the shit I’ve bought that’s made in china. How about asking your comrades to spring for a membership. I’m sure the ccp can afford it.

      • adelaide_economist

        Wow, with all this superiority China still… backs down from confrontation. It’s almost like the US is also investing in new defence technologies at the same time.

        As for carriers being useless, yeah, that must be why China is looking to add multiple of them to its fleet.

  5. About time this was covered – good to see. However there is a serious downplaying of the scope and size of this – the total area of Islands is well over 3,000 hectares and involves 300 Islands.

    Not sure why it is being made out that there are only a few Islands. Strange.

    Further they are off the door step of all their neighbours now- Phillippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, etc.

    Still good to see if still full of spin.

    • ChinajimMEMBER

      False again Mark. The total area of both Spratlys and Paracels is less than 10sq km, so less than 1,000 ha.

      If you’re going to post stuff here that isn’t opinion could you please check your facts. Oh, and why not become a member while you’re at it!

  6. ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER


    “The Chinese have also produced the Xian JH-7 Flying Leopard fighter-bomber with a range and payload exceeding the F-111 (currently about 80 are in service) capable of delivering a nuclear strike. China has also bought the advanced Sukhoi Su-30 from Russia; currently, about 100 Su-30s (MKK and MK2 variants) have been purchased by China. The Su-30 is capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons.[45]:102
    China is alleged to be testing rumored new H-8 and H-9 strategic bombers which are either described as an upgraded H-6 or an aircraft in the same class as the US B-2, able to carry nuclear weapons.[61][62][63]

    • Chinese are also miles ahead in drone tech (something the Americans don’t like to talk about).

      Their Golden Eagle, Black Dragon class drones are full on. They developed anti-stealth drone fleets years ago – and have recently announced anti-stealth Quantum Radar, they have a quantum communications grid and a quantum communications satellite.

      The west have some ideas on quantum, which might be doable.

      They are streets ahead in only a decade. Amazing how stagnant the west has become as markets took over the military for profit instead of innovation and survival.

      • This comment alone deserves the prize. The chutzpah to write this, and believe it, is worthy of admiration. Please post the information so we can at least have the option to discuss constructively instead of comparing rocket sizes. Because writing something like this: “The west have some ideas on quantum, which might be doable.” raises some eyebrows.

      • Because writing something like this: “The west have some ideas on quantum, which might be doable.” raises some eyebrows.

        I thought the bit above about being practically able to tell you the pilot’s shoe size was a bit eyebrow-raising, as well.

      • Ronin8317MEMBER

        The Chinese never proofed they got the quantum communication working on the satellite in space. I know they said it’s operational, however since it’s a military satellite no one outside knows whether it’s working or not.

  7. Damn Mark. Good thing you weren’t running things in 1941 when the Japanese bombed Darwin. You would have been Chicken Little running around.

    Yes China is becoming a formidable power and is throwing its weight around. That is understandable and inevitable. Could there be a conflict between US and China? Possibly. Best way to avoid this is allow China to expand somewhat (which is what most of its neighbours are doing over South China Sea), but make it clear there are limits and no one will benefit from a conflict.

    China faces enormous internal social and economic challenges. Some of the bluster about SCS is probably meant for domestic consumption.

    Remember also
    1. Military capabilities will almost never be what is in the public domain. Real capabilities will be either overstated or understated. Most commonly, the front runner will understate their capability while 2nd place will overstate theirs.
    2. The US still has a significant advantage in most areas that matter. It spends more on defence than any other country – and the person with the deepest pockets usually has the best toys.
    3. There is a lot of US research that is not in the public domain. But it is happening. Like dark matter – we can’t see it but we know its there. Look at the Boing X37. What is it doing? No idea. But its doing something.
    4. The F35 program has had its challenges sure. But the F35 has 3 strengths that are acknowledged by most people – reasonable stealth to be able to get where it wants, an impressive (and heavily classified) sensor suite, and a high capacity secure datalink to relay information. It won’t be the only platform around – there will be other aircraft types and likely surface assets. The F35 is meant to be the eyes, not the muscle. The F35 is not meant to get into air to air combat – other aircraft will take care of that (although AAC in itself is becoming a redundant concept that started to die in the 80’s when TopGun was playing). An F35 pilot that gets into a dogfight has done something wrong.
    5. The problem with drones is they can be disabled if the datalink gets compromised or disabled. They are fine for surveillance and strikes on terrorists over unsophisticated enemies. You can’t however simply launch a swarm of drones against a serious enemy.

    Do we need to be concerned about China? Sure. Is panic and and overactive imagination and overstating their capabilities helpful? No