China has built advanced weapons systems in all seven artificial islands it developed around the disputed Spratly island in the South China Sea, latest satellite images have revealed.
The latest defence facilities erected in the artificial islands are most likely anti-aircraft guns or weapon systems to thwart cruise missile strikes, reports said. China had already built airstrips on the artificial islands, much to the consternation of countries in the region. The installation of advanced weaponry is aimed at defending the islands in case of a missile attack, think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said.
Beijing is serious about defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea, the report says. "Among other things, they would be the last line of defense against cruise missiles launched by the United States or others against these soon-to-be-operational air bases."
With the islands militarized, China can back up the defense of the Spratlys by mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM) platforms. The think tank also cites a Fox News report that said components for SAM systems were spotted at the southeastern Chinese port of Jieyang, possibly intended for deployment in the South China Sea.
Chinese militarisation of the Spratly island reefs and the reclamation of land around the disputed waters have long been a bone of contention between China and the countries in the region that have overlapping claims over the waters. China has denied militarizing the island chain but satellite images show mysterious hexagonal-shaped structures under construction at the Spratly Island's Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs.
The structures in the reefs, some of which are still under wraps, are similar to the fortification systems built on four smaller islands, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said.
"These gun and probable CIWS (close-in weapon system) emplacements show that Beijing is serious about defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea," AMTI said.
The think tank told Reuters it was the first time t could confirm that China has built advanced anti-aircraft and CIWS emplacements n the islands.
"This is militarization. The Chinese can argue that it's only for defensive purposes, but if you are building giant anti-aircraft gun and CIWS [close-in weapon system] emplacements, it means that you are prepping for a future conflict," AMTI director Greg Poling said.
The report also said China is planning to deploy mobile surface-to-air missile platforms on another island it controls in disputed waters. AMTI said it began tracking the construction of identical structures at Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs in June and July. These systems were more advanced than those already in place in smaller reefs such as Gaven, Hughes, Johnson, and Cuarteron Reefs.