Prerequisites for establishing naval bases outside mainland China
At present, the PRC leadership is implementing a program for the modernization of the armed forces, which should enable it to successfully counter US military power in a conflict using conventional means of armed struggle. Many experts say that the PRC is not just building a modern fleet, but is implementing the world's largest naval construction program. And it is likely that China will lead the naval arms race in the near future. But to ensure the supply and combat stability of the naval fleetoperating in the oceans, we need bases where warships could carry out repairs and replenish supplies. In China, they are trying to solve this problem in two ways: by creating bases on the coast of other states and building military bases in disputed island territories. So, in early 2017, an agreement was signed with the government of Djibouti on the creation of a Chinese base in the port of Obok, on the shores of the Gulf of Aden. According to Chinese authorities, the base in Djibouti was created to conduct operations against pirates on the African continent, as well as to assist UN peacekeeping missions.
In 2019, the U.S. Department of Defense published a report saying:
China's leaders are using the country's growing economic, diplomatic and military prestige to establish regional superiority and expand its international influence. China’s progress in implementing the “One Belt, One Way” initiative is likely to lead to the establishment of military bases abroad in connection with the conscious need to ensure the safety of such projects. The opening of the Chinese military base in Djibouti should be seen in the context of the trend of expanding the Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean and the impending change in the role of China in global and regional security for several years. China will seek to create additional military bases in countries with which it has long-standing friendly relations and similar strategic interests, for example, Pakistan, and for which there is already a precedent for the deployment of foreign troops. In addition, China can deploy bases in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. The Pentagon believes that China already has experience in creating military bases in disputed territories in the South China Sea.
Territorial disputes over the ownership of island territories
For decades, China has been arguing with several countries in the region over the territorial affiliation of a number of islands in the South China Sea, through which many trade routes pass. In particular, we are talking about the Sisha archipelago (Paracel Islands), Nansha (Spratly) and Huangyan (Scarborough Reef) islands. Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines are involved in this debate to one degree or another. The most tense situation is around the Scarborough Reef, the Senkaku Archipelago, as well as the southern Spratly Archipelago, on the shelf of which, it is believed, large oil and gas deposits are located. The water area of the South China Sea is of strategic importance - approximately 40% of world trade traffic passes through these sea routes and also through the Strait of Malacca and is transported to 80% of the volume of Chinese oil and gas imports.
China regularly demonstrates the increased power of the PLA Navy in the area of the disputed islands. So, on 26 of December 2016 of the year, the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning entered the disputed waters of the South China Sea through the Bashi Strait and passed near the Pratas archipelago, which is controlled by Taiwan. The aircraft carrier was accompanied by: two destroyers of the 052C project, one destroyer of the 052D project, two frigates of the 054A project, an anti-submarine corvette of the 056A project and a supply vessel of the 903A project.
Prior to this, the arbitration court in The Hague determined that Beijing had no right to the disputed territories in the South China Sea. In response, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that these islands have been an integral part of the Middle Kingdom since ancient times. Back in 1947, two years after Japan's surrender, a map was published in China, on which the state border in the South China Sea was marked in the form of the so-called nine-dotted line. The area covered by this line includes up to 90% of the region, including the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Reef. The PRC leadership still uses the documents of 1947 as the main argument in the dispute, declaring its "historical rights "to the territory. In 1992, China adopted the law" On the territorial sea and contiguous zone ", according to which the Paracel Islands and the Spratly archipelago were declared an integral part of the PRC. In November 2012, the Chinese government published a document in which the Chinese police Hainan Province "to disembark, inspect and take control of foreign ships that have entered the Chinese waters of the South China Sea."
One of the main sources of tension between China and Japan is the territorial dispute over the ownership of the Senkaku archipelago (the Chinese name is Diaoyu Dao). The archipelago is located in the East China Sea at 170 km northeast of Taiwan.
Before World War II, there were 2 settlements of Japanese fishermen on the islands of Kubajima and Wotsurishima. In the 1945 year, Japan lost all the territories it acquired in the 19th century. Senkaku, along with Okinawa, were under US jurisdiction. At the beginning of the 1970's, Okinawa and Senkaku were returned to Japan. 20 years later, after it became known that there was a large natural gas field in the area, the Chinese leadership said that it did not agree with this decision, declaring this territory to be “original Chinese” in 1992. At the initial stage, it seemed that the parties would be able to agree. But in 2010, negotiations were halted after Japan detained a Chinese trawler in the area of the disputed Senkaku Islands and arrested its captain.
The PRC authorities confirm their claims with real actions. In 2004, the Japanese military detained Chinese citizens who landed on Senkaku. In the spring of 2011, the Chinese oil and gas company CNOOC began developing the Chunxiao gas field, located on the Chinese side of the line along which Japan divides the economic zones of the two countries. This caused Japanese protests, as Tokyo believes that it has access to the common gas reservoir of the East China Sea.
CNOOC Chinese oil and gas company platform in the Chunxiao gas field
The situation around Senkaku escalated in July 2012, after Chinese patrol ships appeared in the area. In this regard, on July 15, the ambassador of Japan to the PRC was recalled “for consultations”. In August 2012, anti-Japanese demonstrations took place in a number of Chinese cities, resulting in pogroms of Japanese shops and Japanese-made cars. The reason for the speeches was the fact that a group of Japanese citizens landed on the disputed islands and hoisted the flag of Japan there. In mid-September, PLA warships appeared in the vicinity of the archipelago, and Chinese long-range bombers and patrol aircraft repeatedly invaded the airspace over the islands.
H-6K Chinese long-range bomber patrolling the South China Sea
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that if Japan does not give up unilateral claims on the islands, which the PRC considers historically belonging to it, then the incident could threaten "serious consequences". Later, around 1000 Chinese fishing vessels began fishing in the Senkaku area and 2 from 11 Chinese military patrol ships cruising near the islands entered Japanese territorial waters. 6 March 2018 Foreign Ministry Spokesman Gen Shuang said the Diaoyudao Islands (Senkaku) belong to China, regardless of what the Japanese government says or does.
In addition to archipelagos located relatively close to its own coast, China also claims to be islands located in close proximity to other countries. At present, China and the Philippines are making territorial claims on an uninhabited patch of land located in the South China Sea, 230 km from the Philippine island of Luzon. Several stones sticking out of the water, forming a wave-protected lagoon, are called Sharborough Shoal, and the largest land area, protruding 1,8 m above sea level at high tide, is known as Scarborough Reef (on international maps) and Hongyan Island (on maps) China). The shallow waters of Scarborough form a triangular chain of reefs and rocks with a perimeter of 46 km. It covers an area of 150 km². The lagoon of the atoll provides shelter for fishing schooners, and in its vicinity a lot of fish.
The Chinese authorities say that Hongyan is an original Chinese maritime possession, as allegedly in ancient treatises there are materials that Chinese fishermen arrived here for fishing in the 13 century. The Philippine authorities say that if Scarborough is located 230 km from the coast of Luzon, then, according to international canons, it is Manila that has every reason to consider this piece of land to be its own. However, from 2012 to 2016, Chinese patrol ships did not allow Filipino fishermen to enter the area. The leadership of the Philippines hoped for US support in a territorial dispute with the PRC, but the Americans, limiting themselves to naval exercises, preferred once again not to aggravate relations with China.
Another potentially hot spot is the Spratly island archipelago with an area of over 400 thousand km², located in the southwestern part of the South China Sea. It consists of more than 100 islets, reefs and atolls, with a total land area of less than 5 km². The center of the archipelago is located 400 km from the islands of Palawan and Kalimantan, 500 km from the coast of Vietnam and 1000 km from the Chinese island of Hainan. According to expert estimates, this region has significant oil and gas reserves, as well as rich fishing.
About 45 islets and reefs until recently were occupied by small military contingents from Vietnam, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. It’s difficult to call them full-fledged military bases, but rather military posts in the form of small buildings on stilts. But recently, a lot has changed.
Spratly Islands with flags of their occupying states
The PRC's active efforts to capture the Spratly skeleton began in 1988, when Reef Johnson had a battle between Chinese and Vietnamese warships. During the battle, three Vietnamese and one Chinese guard were sunk.
Google Earth Satellite Image: Johnson Reef in 2006
As a result, China captured seven reefs and atolls, creating a bridgehead to further expand its sphere of influence. China currently maintains a military presence on the 9 islands, Vietnam controls the 21 islands, the Philippines 8 islands, Malaysia has posts on the 3 islands. Despite the fact that this territory is the furthest removed from the Chinese coast, it is China that displays the greatest military activity, sending warships to this area and flying patrol planes, as well as laundering artificial islands.
China in the past was not limited to patrolling the waters adjacent to the disputed islands. In shallow water, several major reinforced concrete structures were built, in which observation posts, communication centers and radar stations were placed. About five years ago, the PRC leadership launched a large-scale reclamation program to create artificial islands, which in the West was called the “Great Wall of Sand”. For the first time this name was used in March of 2018 by the commander of the American Pacific Fleet, Admiral Harry Harris. Artificial islands were created by sanding coral reefs, which were then concreted to create a holistic structure. At the same time, Chinese representatives stated that the construction was intended to “improve the working and living conditions of the people located on these islands,” and that “China seeks to provide asylum, navigation and, if necessary, emergency assistance to various types of foreign vessels, as well as to provide a more accurate forecast weather. " Since the delivery of rock from the mainland of the PRC is too expensive and takes a lot of time, sand washing is mainly used to create artificial islands. To erect the Great Sand Wall, a whole fleet of ships was created in China for washing sand, delivering rock from the mainland of China, and the technology of mass casting of large-sized concrete foundations was developed.
In 2016, it became known that China built the world's largest ship designed to wash sand - Tian Kun Hao ("Creator of the magic islands"). Its productivity is 6000 m³ sand per hour.
Google Earth satellite imagery: artificial island in Johnson Reef in 2018
By 2016, in the place of a piece of land poured during the tide, called Johnson Reef, and a small post on piles with a garrison of a dozen people, an artificial island measuring 0,11 km² appeared. Despite its small size, this is a full-fledged land area with capital buildings and structures. In addition to navigation lighthouses, a pier has been built on the island, capable of receiving large vessels, an office building, a communications center, a helipad, several radars and warehouses.
Google Earth Satellite Image: Quarteron Reef in 2014
The military presence of the PRC was also noted on Quarteron Reef, where until 2016, there was a supply platform installed on piles. At the moment, one can observe an artificial island with an area of about 0,08 km².
The island has mooring facilities with a sheltered inner harbor, capital structures, a helipad, navigation beacons and a radar post.
Google Earth satellite image: Gaven reef in 2012 year
The same story happened with Reef Gaven. Until 2014, there was a small platform here. Now it is an outpost of the PLA Navy with a capital pier, helipads, radars and ready-made positions for the deployment of anti-ship and anti-aircraft systems.
Google Earth satellite image: Gaven reef in 2018 year
In 40 kilometers south of Reef Gaven on Reef Hages, another artificial island with a length of about 600 m and a width in the widest place, up to 310 m, was erected in three years.
Google Earth Satellite Image: Hughes Reef in 2014
The construction of the island was carried out according to the technology run-in earlier on other islands of the archipelago. The artificial island infrastructure is similar to other facilities built in the area.
Google Earth Satellite Image: Hughes Reef in 2018
In 2014, work began on the washing of an artificial island in the Yubi Reef. Before the reclamation began, it was a horseshoe-shaped closed atoll 6,5 km long, 3,7 km wide. The depth of the lagoon reached 25 m.
Google Earth satellite imagery: Xubi Reef in 2014
As of 2016, the area of the artificial island, poured on the site of the Reef Yubi, reached 5 km². The construction of an artificial island was started for the construction of an air base with a capital runway of 3250 m long and 60 m wide. The first civilian airliner of the Chinese company Hainan Airlines landed on the runway of Yubi Island on 13 on July 2016 of the year.
Google Earth satellite imagery: artificial Yubi island in 2016
The island also has airspace monitoring radars, a terminal building, hangars, 20 reinforced concrete shelters, 2 helipads, warehouses and fuel and lubricant storage. In the northwestern part of the island there is a residential area with an artificial park, a tennis court and a football field. According to American intelligence, on the island of Yubi on an ongoing basis there are anti-aircraft and anti-ship missile systems.
Paracel Islands are located at 230 km south of Hainan Island and at 200 km east of the Vietnamese coast. The archipelago consists of 15 islands, as well as reefs and sandbanks located on the territory of 46 thousand km² in a radius of about 100 km. Its length from west to east is 180 km, and from north to south - 170 km, the total area of the islands is about 7,8 km². Significant hydrocarbon reserves occur in the immediate vicinity of the islands. According to American experts, they make up 11 billion barrels of oil and 5,9 trillion. cubic meters of gas.
In January 1974, taking advantage of the fact that the South Vietnamese regime in Saigon was on the verge of military defeat, and the Americans were not up to the support of their ally in the confrontation with China, the PLA Navy after landing a battle with South Vietnamese ships landed in the Paracel Islands. According to official figures, 53 Vietnamese and 18 Chinese were killed during the operation to capture the islands.
In the 2012 year, the Paracel Islands were merged into the urban area of Sansha, with a population of about 2000 people. The jurisdiction of the county extends to more than 40 reefs and islands located in an area of about 80 000 km². According to information published by the American analytical center CSIS, the construction of military infrastructure is being carried out in the Paracel Islands. On the four islands, full-fledged runways with shelters, workshops, fuel storage facilities were built. A significant expansion of the harbors took place on a number of islands, where large military and transport ships can enter. Although the Chinese military presence in the Paracel Selipipal has been growing since the beginning of the 21 century, the main activity of the PRC in this area began in 2014, when China began to create artificial islands in the zone of disputed archipelagos. Construction began at such a pace that in April 2015, the commander in chief of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Harry Harris, anxiously declared: "At present, the Chinese have already created about 4 km² of land." Since that time, the area of artificial islands in the South China Sea has increased many times.
Google Earth Satellite Image: Woody Island in 2005
The largest military base was built on Woody Island, where there are two man-made harbors capable of accepting vessels of up to 10 000 tons. By 2014, the original area of 2,1 km² was increased by approximately 30%. Reconstruction in 2007 year was a major runway length of 2350 meters, erected in 1990 year. Capital concrete shelters, fuel and ammunition storage facilities, new residential buildings for military and service personnel were built. The island's inland water supply comes from collecting rainwater. Additional drinking water is supplied from Hainan Island. The desalination plant, built in October 2016, is capable of processing 1000 tons of sea water per day.
Google Earth Satellite Image: Woody Island in 2018
According to official Chinese data, there are now about 1200 people constantly on Woody Island. Most of them work with interchangeable shifts for 6 months. About half of the island's population is military and police.
On central Chinese television, stories were repeatedly shown in which the Chinese military, deployed on the islands of the archipelago, demonstrate their willingness to repel a possible invasion.
Google Earth satellite imagery: J-11 fighters on Woody Island
On the runway of the airfield in the past, combat aircraft J-8II, JH-7A and Su-30МК2 were seen. Antisubmarine helicopters are located here and patrol aircraft are landing.
According to American data, the J-11 heavy fighter squadron is currently based on the island on an ongoing basis. Fighters are placed in well-protected reinforced concrete shelters, which can only be hit by direct hit of large-caliber ammunition. These shelters are spacious enough, which allows for full-fledged aircraft maintenance, while inside. In the event of an aggravation of the situation, the number of combat aircraft on Woody Island can be rapidly increased several times.
At present, Woody Island is turned into a real naval fortress. Not far from the runway there are concrete platforms designed for the deployment of HQ-6A short-range air defense systems. A two-axle trailer with an 30-mm seven-barreled anti-aircraft turret 730 with a radar-optical guidance system has been added to the control point of this anti-aircraft missile system. It is believed that this increases the ability of the HQ-6A complex to destroy low-altitude air targets. This complex on an ongoing basis does not carry combat duty and is in a shelter that protects it from the effects of adverse meteorological factors. On satellite images, you can see that he is regularly placed in positions for training purposes. Unlike more long-range systems, the HQ-6A missile and artillery system is designed for direct air defense against low-altitude air attack systems located in direct-to-side aisles.
There are several mobile and stationary radars on the island. A stationary radar post with radar located on reinforced concrete towers and antennas covered by radiolucent fairings is located in the northwestern tip of the island. Powerful stationary radars are capable of detecting high-altitude air targets at ranges of more than 400 km, large sea targets can be detected at ranges of up to 200 km.
Google Earth satellite imagery: HQ-9A air defense missile position in West Woody Island
On the artificially washed beach in the western part of the island, a division of the anti-aircraft missile system HQ-9A is deployed, with a range of destruction of high-altitude targets up to 200 km. Constant radar monitoring of the airspace in the presence of anti-aircraft missile systems of various ranges and modern fighter jets makes it possible to create an effective air defense umbrella over the islands under the control of China.
American media, citing information obtained from intelligence sources, write about the presence of mobile anti-ship missile systems on Woody Island. Perhaps we are talking about RCC C-803 with a launch range of more than 200 km. It can also be YJ-62C anti-ship missiles - with a range of more than 300 km or YJ-18 heavy missiles capable of fighting surface ships at ranges up to 500 km. Chinese coastal anti-ship systems should receive target designation over the horizon from surface ships, Y-8X / J / G / Q patrol aircraft and KJ-200 / 500 AWACS aircraft, based on Hainan Island, which is located about half an hour from Woody. Also at the Woody airbase in satellite images, Z-18 helicopters were seen. Among these machines may be a helicopter radar patrol Z-18J. According to Western experts, heavy unmanned aerial vehicles Xianlong and Divine Eagle can be involved in patrolling the waters adjacent to the Paracel Islands; UAVs of this type are permanently deployed at Anshun air base in Guizhou province in southeast China.
Google Earth Satellite Image: Trie Island in 2002
In addition to the island of Woody, military facilities appeared on other islands of the Paracel Selsk archipelago. In the 2014 year, intensive work began to increase the area of the island of Trie, whose area had previously been 0,22 km². Currently, the island has grown approximately twice. There is also an infrastructure that allows you to receive cargo from transport ships, a helipad, warehouses and radars.
Google Earth Satellite Image: Trie Island in 2018
Mani Island, with an area of 0,36 km², is located in the southwest of the Paracel Selskiy archipelago. In 2009, the construction of several concrete towers intended to accommodate radars began here. Currently, on the island, whose length in the tide does not exceed 1300 m, there are five powerful radars operating.
Google Earth Satellite Image: Duncan Island in 2004
According to US military experts, Duncan Island, located in the center of the archipelago, is the foundation of anti-submarine defense and radio intelligence of the PLA Navy in the area. As in the case of other islands, its area was seriously increased after the 2014 year.
Google Earth Satellite Image: Duncan Island in 2018
On Duncan Island with an area of about 0,5 km², there are at least six radars, a large communications center, several helipads and hangars. The size of the inner harbor allows you to take large transport and warships. According to official Chinese sources, there is a center for tracking space objects on Duncan Island.
Google Earth satellite imagery: PLA warships in the inner harbor of Duncan Island
In 2016, an airstrip built on the Fier Cross (Yongshuai) reef, which is located halfway between Vietnam and Malaysia, was commissioned. The cleaning of the artificial island began in the 2014 year. Two years later, a land plot with an area of 3 km² and an Nansha air base with a runway length of 3160 m appeared on which all types of Chinese fighters and bombers can land. The first passenger Boeing 737 of the Chinese airline China Southern Airlines Holding Company landed in Nansha on 6 on January 2016 of the year. Also, patrol Chinese aircraft regularly land at the island airbase.
Google Earth Satellite Image: Fire Cross Reef in 2014
In 2018, the main construction work on the island was completed, and now it can accommodate a complete fighter regiment, bombers carrying anti-ship missiles and anti-submarine aircraft.
Google Earth satellite imagery: artificial cross of Fire in 2016
Available commercial satellite images show that in addition to GDP, large-sized hangars, concrete shelters, warehouses, fuel storages, as well as capital residential and office premises, have been built. In the northeastern part of the island, on both sides at the exit of the artificial harbor there are radio-transparent domes, under which there may be antennas for radars and satellite communication systems.
Satellite image of Google Earth: radiolucent domes at the exit of the island of Fire Cross
At the shocking pace on the island that has been washed over two years, the infrastructure necessary for the full functioning of a large military base, the number of personnel of which can reach several thousand people, has been built.
Satellite image of Google Earth: large landing ship of 072-II Ave. at the mooring wall in the harbor of the island of Fire Cross
The inner harbor of the island allows the acceptance of ocean-class ships. Satellite images show that corvettes and destroyers of the PLA Navy regularly moor at the mooring wall. Cargo delivery to the island is carried out both by civilian transport vessels and by large landing ships. Satellite imagery shows a visit to the island by large landing ships of Project 072-II with a total displacement of 4800 tons. The BDK of this project, with a cruising range of about 3000 miles, can take on board up to 300 marines and 10 tanks.
250 kilometers west of the island of the Philippine island of Palawan is the Disaster Reef, which at high tide was almost completely flooded. In 2015, despite the protests of Manila, China began reclamation work here.
Google Earth Satellite Image: 2015 Disaster Reef
A year later, an artificial island appeared around the perimeter of the lagoon, in the western part of which construction of the Ray Meiji airbase with a runway of 2644 meter length began. 13 July 2016 year on the runway boarded a passenger plane of China Southern Airlines.
Google Earth satellite imagery: artificial island at 2018 Disaster Reef site
Given the active objections of the Philippine authorities regarding the construction of an air base on the island and the relative remoteness from the coast of China, from the very beginning all work in this area was carried out under the protection of PLA warships. According to American data, on an artificial island with an area of about 0,7 km² there are radars and anti-aircraft complexes of the near zone.
More recently, the South China Morning Post reported that a research institute under the Chinese Academy of Sciences is developing a portable nuclear power reactor with the prospect of its deployment on one of the disputed islands in the South China Sea. The development is partially sponsored by the PRC army, and the first reactor in China is expected to be received in 5 years. Obviously, such statements are an open challenge for China to its rivals in the Pacific, and especially the United States. The increased economic power of the PRC is being transformed into an increase in the capabilities of aviation and the navy, which require well-equipped bases in the oceans. Having secured themselves de facto on the disputed islands and turning them into "unsinkable aircraft carriers", the Chinese authorities can afford to ignore the opinions of other states, conducting a dialogue from a "position of strength."