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Apr 30, 2018 | 14:43 GMT

3 mins read

What Beijing is Building in the South China Sea

Stratfor has obtained satellite imagery of Mischief Reef in the South China Sea, and we show in this visual analysis what China is putting in place.

Since China began its extensive land reclamation program in the South China Sea in 2013, Beijing has focused on improving its presence and infrastructure at seven locations in the Spratly Island chain: Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross, Gaven, Hughes, Johnson, Mischief and Subi reefs. Of the seven locations, the Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs received particular attention in the form of large-scale airfields built there. Over time, China has also added harbors, barracks, radar and other sensors. This is in addition to communications equipment, storage bunkers and general infrastructure installed across all seven islands. Stratfor partners at AllSource Analysis have provided imagery that confirms mobile electronic warfare (EW) equipment was recently deployed to Mischief Reef.

Beijing deployed EW equipment to prepared positions in Mischief Reef, consisting of 13 concrete pads located between an airfield to the north and what is probably a motor pool area in the southeast. The imagery shows that two camouflaged vehicles, most likely mobile EW systems, were moved to the deployment site as recently as March 13. The imagery indicates that China likely engaged in periodic training at the airfield for mobile electronic warfare operations during February and March of 2018.

Satellite imagery showing how China has deployed electronic warfare assets to the Spratly Island chain in the South China Sea.

The recent addition of mobile equipment for electronic warfare to Mischief Reef adds to the already-extensive electronic network on the reef. To the southeast, China has constructed what is probably a high-frequency, direction-finding antenna array installation which could be used to collect electronic or signals intelligence from transmissions by aircraft or ships in the region, as well as to detect stealth aircraft. North of the island, China has also built what is probably an inter-island communication tower with an associated antenna array similar to the ones found at Cuarteron, Hughes, Johnson South and Gaven reefs. On top of that, China constructed a Doppler very high-frequency omnidirectional range (DVOR) radio system adjacent to the airfield on Mischief Reef. DVOR systems provide short-range navigation information for aircraft without using satellite navigation data.

These developments are yet another example of China reinforcing its territorial claims in the region.

The deployment of EW equipment is particularly notable because the gear could be used to harass and jam the electronic equipment of various actors in the South China Sea, including the United States. In fact, the equipment deployed to Mischief Reef could have already been used for this purpose. A recent statement from a U.S. Navy pilot, for example, alluded to an incident in recent weeks when his aircraft was likely jammed by Chinese electronic equipment. As Beijing continues to build up its capabilities across the South China Sea, tools like electronic warfare equipment will make the country better positioned to continue asserting its territorial claims in the region.

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