China has begun to build its first airstrip in the Spratly Islands, according to IHS Jane’s analysis of Airbus Defence and Space satellite imagery taken in March.

The defense/security analyst disclosed in a Thursday report that satellite imagery shows China has started to build a runway on reclaimed parts of Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands. The imagery, provided by Airbus Defence and Space, also shows China building islands on Subi Reef that if linked up would provide enough land for another airstrip. The report was written by Jane’s analysts James Hardy, Sean O’Connor, and Michael Cohen.

Images taken on March 23 reveal a paved section of runway 503 m by 53 m on the northeastern side of Fiery Cross Reef, which China began to turn into an island in late 2014. Paving and ground preparation of other sections of the runway has also begun further along the island. In addition, workers have paved about 400 m by 20 m of apron, according to Jane’s.

Other imagery taken in March also shows China could be building a second airstrip-capable island on Subi Reef.

China’s island building at Fiery Cross Reef has created a landmass that is capable of housing a runway about 3,000 m long. This would be well within the parameters of existing People’s Liberation Army Air Force runways on mainland China, which vary in length from about 2,700 m to 4,000 m at most, Jane’s said.

The runway at Woody Island in the Paracel Islands was about 2,300 m before upgrade work started there in 2014; satellite imagery suggests China is also expanding that to be about 3,000 m long.

The 23 March imagery of Fiery Cross Reef also shows further dredging on the new island’s southwestern side, close to the extant platform that China originally built on the reef. The imagery also shows floating cranes consolidating the integrity of new island’s harbour by placing concrete blocks on the interior walls; an exterior sea wall has also been extended, presumably to provide better protection for ships in port,” Jane’s said.

Airbus imagery taken of Subi Reef – also in the Spratlys – on February 6 and 5 March 5 shows land reclamation on this site too. The 6 February image shows three islands being created. By March 5, at least nine dredgers are creating larger landmasses on the reef that if joined together could create enough land for another 3,000 m-long airstrip.

While Fiery Cross Reef is to the west of the Spratly Islands archipelago, Subi Reef is on the north side of the island group and is only 25 km from Thitu/Pagasa island, which is occupied by the Philippines and has a civilian population, according to Jane’s.


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