China is extending its grip on the South China Sea by stationing advanced J-11BH/BHS fighters on Woody Island. According to defense analyst Wendell Minnick those fighters can reach an additional 360 kilometers into the disputed area, he writes in Defense News.
The placement of advanced fighter aircraft on Woody Island, located in the Parcel archipelago, extends China’s fighter aircraft reach an additional 360 kilometers into the South China Sea from the PLAN air base located on Hainan Island.
The new location could prove troublesome for US surveillance aircraft, such as the EP-3 Aries and the P-8 Poseidon, that fly through the area on a regular basis. In 2001, a collision between a Chinese fighter and EP-3 resulted in the death of a Chinese fighter pilot and the forced landing of the EP-3 on Hainan Island. In 2014, a Chinese fighter harassed a P-8 in the vicinity of Woody Island, which followed with a strong verbal protest by the Pentagon.
Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Chinese are demonstrating to the US, other claimants to the South China Sea and their domestic audience that they intend to protect their sovereignty.
Farther south of Woody Island, China is building air bases and port facilities in the Spratly Islands. These include Subi Reef, Mischief Reef and Fiery Cross. All three have undergone significant land reclamation efforts and expansion over the past two years.
“As China completes the facilities on its reclaimed features in the Spratlys, including air strips, hangars and fuel storage tanks, it will be able to base, or at least rotate on a regular basis, fighters in the South China Sea,” said Ian Storey, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore.
Some observers minimize the importance of military facilities and operational capabilities on China’s various claimed features, rocks and islands in the South China Sea, but Paul Giarra, president of Global Strategies and Transformation, disagrees.
“Chinese military aircraft and missile batteries spread throughout the South China Sea serve a number of important functions, all to the disadvantage of the United States and our friends and allies [including Taiwan] who have a stake in freedom of seas, the rule of law and their own territorial claims,” he said.
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