Satellite images show a PLANAF at the Fiery Cross Reef on the strategically located Islands situated north of the South China Sea. Jane’s Information Group, a defence intelligence group, warned the sighting could be further signs the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force is starting to use it as a base of operations.
Sean O’Connor, principal analyst at Jane’s, said: “Two sightings of surveillance aircraft within a month could indicate that the PLANAF is beginning to periodically base aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef.
“Aircraft could be regularly rotated through the base from other PLANAF units in the South Sea Fleet.”
He said there was space in the hangar for at least three surveillance aircraft and others could be parked in the open.
China has long been determined to complete its construction of artificial reefs in the internationally disputed waters, despite protests from neighbouring countries.
Critics believe the work is being conducted with the aim of strengthening China’s claim to the vast majority of the South China Sea, increasing fears the movement of ships and aircraft in the region could soon be restricted by Beijing.
China has conducted extensive exercises in the area – a disputed territory where it faces rival ownership claims from Vietnam, Brunie, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan.
Diplomatic relations between the five nations which have laid claim to the islands are already extremely strained, and the recent construction of bunkers on some of the atols point to China preparing to “protection against air or missile strikes”, raising the prospect of a conflict which could spark World War 3.
China has reclaimed huge swathes of land along with carrying out high-level building work at Fiery Cross Reef, including building an airport.
The islands and surrounding reefs have been the subject of a bitter and long-running territorial dispute, with China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines all laying claim to parts of the archipelago.
According to the AMTI, China now has seven outposts in the Spratlys but is focussing its efforts fortifying a trio of bases dubbed the ‘Big Three’.
The largest and most advanced at Fiery Cross Reef has been completely transformed from three reefs in 2009 to a major military installation today.
Fiery Cross is now home to a military garrison, an airfield and a…
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