Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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China Building Airbases in Spratlys Big Enough for over 100 Fighter Jets

Ready for war

Reefs on which China is building airbases.

China ongoing military infrastructure construction on its three largest manmade holdings in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea will eventually see these islands capable of basing over 100 fighter jets of the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).

This construction activity is taking place on Fiery Cross Reef; Subi Reef and Mischief Reef, all of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, said the U.S. Defense Department's annual report on military and security developments involving China submitted to Congress.

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"In 2016, China focused its main effort on infrastructure construction at its outposts on the Spratly Islands," the report said.

The Pentagon revealed China is building or has built 24 hardened aircraft hangars large enough to house fighters or other aircraft on each of these three islands. China has also built airbases capable of supporting take-offs and landings of PLAAF jets, plus other supporting infrastructure such as barracks and communications facilities. Each of the three runways on these islands is about 2,700 meters long.

China has also installed surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems and close-in weapons (CIWS) systems to defend these military airfields.

Once construction ends, the three islands will be able to deploy a combined total of up to three fighter regiments in the Spratlys. A PLAAF fighter regiment consists of three squadrons with each squadron consisting of three flights of four aircraft each.

This means the PLAAF can deploy over 100 fighters (mostly Shenyang J-11 air superiority fighters) to these three new airbases.

"China's Spratly Islands outpost expansion effort is currently focused on building out the land-based capabilities of its three largest outposts -- Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs -- after completion of its four smaller outposts early in 2016," said the Pentagon's report.

"Once all these facilities are complete, China will have the capacity to house up to three regiments of fighters in the Spratly Islands."

The report said "China has used coercive tactics, such as the use of law enforcement vessels and its maritime militia, to enforce maritime claims and advance its interests in ways that are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict."

It also said no substantial land has been reclaimed at any of the seven Chinese-held outposts since China ended its artificial island creation in the Spratlys in late 2015.

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