Satellite images released by European Space Imagery show completed Chinese military installations on the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
The Spratly Islands are a disputed zone, with China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines all advancing territorial claims, and all except Brunei occupying at least some of the maritime features in the area.
China has repeatedly stated that it has no intention to militarise the artificial islands it has constructed around the reefs it has claimed.
Satellite images provided by DigitalGlobe and analysed by European Space Imagery show strong military construction with a deep water port, completed aerodromes, hangars, military barracks and communications infrastructure on the Subi and Mischief reefs.
30 centimetre resolution images convey extensive detail of the new installations. ESI’s analysis of the Mischief Reef images shows a deep water port which serves as a blue water naval base on the island’s northwest quarter, and a 2.7 kilometre runway with no visible passenger terminals or accommodation, suggesting its intended function as a joint use naval airport.
Military barracks, communication antennae, underground POL (petrol, oil and lubricant) storage tanks and control towers are all visible in the images. The barracks boast completed athletics facilities with basketball and tennis courts, a full track and football fields.
Images of Subi reef display another deep water port and naval base, and an airfield with 14 hangars for small interceptor aircraft along with four large heavy maintenance hangars.
In early February, China announced a deployment of fighter jets for a “joint combat patrol” over the South China Sea.
Adrian Zevenbergen, managing director of European Space Imaging, said that high resolution satellite imagery was critical for informing intelligence analysis.
“The power of 30 cm resolution is undeniable for the defense and intelligence sector. In these images of the Spratly Islands we have been able to verify several identifying factors that could prove critical to a military operation without the risk of detection or on-ground personnel,” he said.