By Lucas Tomlinson, Yonat Friling
FoxNews.com, April 12, 2016
The Chinese military has deployed new fighter jets to a contested island in the South China Sea and bolstered their advanced surface-to-air missile system on the island, new satellite imagery provided exclusively to Fox News shows. The move is expected to escalate tensions in the region days before Defense Secretary Ash Carter visits the Philippines, where China’s recent provocative actions in the region are expected to be a point of discussion.
Satellite imagery from ImageSat International (ISI) taken on April 7 and authenticated by U.S. defense officials Tuesday show two Chinese Shenyang J-11 fighter jets on Woody Island. The Chinese J-11s, known as “Flankers” by the Pentagon first entered service in 1998. They are a modified version of the Russian Sukhoi Su-27, comparable to a U.S. Air Force F-15 or Navy F/A-18 Hornet.
Woody Island is the largest island in the Paracel chain of islands in the South China Sea. The Chinese installed a runway there in the early 1990s. It lies 250 miles southeast of a major Chinese submarine base on Hainan Island. China has claimed Woody Island since the 1950s, but it is also contested by Taiwan and Vietnam.
The concern among senior officials in Washington is that China will eventually control the South China Sea if its militarization continues unchecked. An estimated $5 trillion in cargo and natural resources pass through these coveted sea lanes each year.
The satellite photos also show a newly installed fire control radar system on Woody Island, which makes China’s surface-to-air missile launchers first deployed in February fully operational. The U.S. military is concerned the new radar allows China to track U.S. fighter jets, bombers and intelligence gathering aircraft keeping an eye on the Chinese military. The photos from ImageSat International show four of the eight surface-to-air missiles ready to fire on the eastern side of Woody Island.