Satellite images obtained by The Washington Times show the deployment of PLA KJ-500 airborne warning and control aircraft over Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in May and June. Other satellite photos show the deployment of Y-9 transport planes and Z-8 helicopters to Subi Reef in June and this month.
In 2020, China’s KQ-200 anti-submarine fighter aircraft were also deployed at the third island base on Fiery Cross Reef.
In the past, Chinese military aircraft have occasionally stopped at a base built since 2013 as part of Beijing’s massive military campaign to expand power and protect its broad claim to sovereignty over the strategic waterway.
The two reefs are part of a triangle of South China Sea military bases that were equipped with China’s advanced missiles in 2018. This contradicts what officials say United States of America (US) as President Xi Jinping’s promise not to militarize islands claimed by China and several other regional countries.
The base can accommodate all types of fighter and bomber aircraft and has docking facilities capable of handling most Chinese warships.
The satellite image of the military aircraft was obtained by J. Michael Dahm, a former US Navy intelligence officer currently working at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, known as APL.
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“The most significant change in military posture in 2021 is the appearance of Chinese special mission aircraft and helicopters on Subi and Mischief Reefs, which suggests the PLA may have started routine air operations from these airfields,” Dahm said in an interview. The Washington Times, Thursday (14/7/2021).