"tonto" wrote in message news:sd0g32$spi$1...@dont-email.me...
> It is not unusual to deploy planes on the islands.
As long as they're Cessnas or similar: "If the airstrips on the three atolls
are sinking or cracked it would not be readily apparent from satellite
imagery. Aircraft could use them, especially slower turboprop aircraft such
as the military transport planes and maritime patrol aircraft that landed on
Fiery Cross Reef in March and April. But for fast combat jets the integrity
of the runway surface needs to be much higher. The image-conscious and
risk-averse PLA would be keen to avoid the public relations debacle that
would accompany a mishap involving one of its fighters as it took off or
landed on one of the three reefs. If indeed there are structural problems
with the runways and associated facilities on China’s man-made islands it
calls into question their strategic utility for the Chinese air force and
any ambitions Beijing may harbor to enforce an ADIZ over the South China
Sunk: How China's Man-Made Islands Are Falling Apart and Sinking Into the
Shoddy construction plus climate change equals unstable islands.
by David Axe
Key point: Bejing quickly built human-made artificial islands to seize
disputed territories. But now it looks like their greed and speed are coming
back to haunt them.
China’s island outposts in the China Seas might have a major weakness.
Since 2013 the Chinese government has dredged and mostly destroyed
ecologically delicate reefs in disputed waters in order to build seven major
military bases complete with ports, airstrips and radar and missile
The islands function as unsinkable aircraft carriers and help to cement
Beijing’s claims on waters rich with fish and minerals, waters that
neighboring countries also claim.
“If the terraforming no longer makes headlines, it is because it is largely
complete,” The Economist stated.
Perhaps the most important installations sit on the Fiery Cross, Subi and
Mischief reefs in the Spratly island group. Vietnam, The Philippines,
Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all also claim the Spratlys.
Between 2013 and 2016, huge construction vessels pulverized the reefs in
order to create the raw materials for the bases. The dredger Tianjing alone
shifted 4,500 cubic meters of materials every hour, “enough to nearly fill
two Olympic-size swimming pools,” according to the Hong Kong South China
Beijing claims it has begun restoring the reefs it destroyed, but it’s
unclear how effective restoration efforts might be. Marine biologist John
McManus at the University of Miami said that dredging “kills basically
everything” living around coral reefs.
To the Chinese Communist Party, the new bases were worth the environmental
cost. The installations “allow China to control the entirety of the South
China Sea in any scenario short of all-out war with the United States,” The
Economist explained. “The new port and resupply facilities are helping China
project power ever further afield. Chinese survey vessels look for oil and
gas in contested waters.”
In 2014 China deployed an oil platform in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone,
leading to a stand-off between Chinese and Vietnamese forces. The Chinese
eventually removed the first platform, only later to deploy a second one.
“Yet not everything is going China’s way,” The Economist added. “Rumors
suggest the new islands’ concrete is crumbling and their foundations turning
to sponge in a hostile climate. And that is before considering what a direct
hit from a super-typhoon might do.”
More significantly, neighboring countries are resisting Chinese pressure to
develop gasfields that lie within their [exclusive economic zones] jointly.
Even though The Philippines agreed in principle to one joint development, a
formal agreement to that end has yet to be signed.
Nor has China prevented foreign oil companies from working with other
littoral states. The rig Chinese vessels harried in Vietnamese waters is
operated by a Russian state enterprise, Rosneft, even though Russia is
supposedly a close friend of China’s.
The island bases’ uncertain future hasn’t deterred China from heaping
additional capabilities on their potentially fragile infrastructure. In
November 2019 a surveillance blimp for the first time appeared on Mischief
“A radar-carrying aerostat [blimp] would provide a very capable, but also a
relatively cheap option for monitoring various activity around Mischief
Reef, as well as potentially cueing surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles to
engage potential threats,” Joseph Trevithick reported at The War Zone.
The elevated position would help increase the overall range of the system
substantially, which would be especially valuable for spotting low-flying
threats, such as cruise missiles or swarms of small unmanned aircraft as
they crest over the horizon. Though China is steadily improving the defenses
on its man-made islands, low-flying cruise missiles certainly represent a
continuing threat to its outposts.
Aerostat-mounted radar systems can also remain aloft for long periods and,
depending on their exact capabilities, in many types of weather, making them
far more cost-effective and easier to maintain than manned aerial sensor
platforms. They can also fly much higher, and therefore have far longer
line-of-sight to the horizon, than even large mast-mounted ground-based
The U.S. Navy periodically maneuvers a warship close to one of China’s
island bases in order to assert American forces’ legal right to sail through
international waters. In the event of war between the United States and
China in the western Pacific region, the outposts likely would be important
targets for the Americans.