10 August 2016
Vietnam has discreetly fortified several of its islands in the disputed South China Sea with new mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China’s runways and military installations across the vital trade route, according to Western officials.
Diplomats and military officers told Reuters that intelligence shows Hanoi has shipped the launchers from the Vietnamese mainland into position on five bases in the Spratly islands in recent months, a move likely to raise tensions with Beijing.
The launchers have been hidden from aerial surveillance and they have yet to be armed, but could be made operational with rocket artillery rounds within two or three days, according to the three sources.
Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry said the information was “inaccurate”, without elaborating.
Deputy Defence Minister, Senior Lieutenant-General Nguyen Chi Vinh, told Reuters in Singapore in June that Hanoi had no such launchers or weapons ready in the Spratlys but reserved the right to take any such measures.
“It is within our legitimate right to self-defense to move any of our weapons to any area at any time within our sovereign territory,” he said.
Foreign officials and military analysts believe the launchers form part of Vietnam’s state-of-art EXTRA rocket artillery system recently acquired from Israel.
EXTRA rounds are highly accurate up to a range of 150 km (93 miles), with different 150 kg (330 lb) warheads that can carry high explosives or bomblets to attack multiple targets simultaneously. Operated with targeting drones, they could strike both ships and land targets.
That puts China’s 3,000-metre runways and installations on Subi, Fiery Cross and Mischief Reef within range of many of Vietnam’s tightly clustered holdings on 21 islands and reefs.
While Vietnam has larger and longer range Russian coastal defense missiles, the EXTRA is considered highly mobile and effective against amphibious landings. It uses compact radars, so does not require a large operational footprint – also suitable for deployment on islets and reefs.
Militarization and Construction in the South China Sea: https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/category/events-and-analyses/militarization-and-construction-in-the-south-china-sea/
Facts on the Ground and on the Waters: https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/category/south-china-sea-facts-on-the-ground-and-on-the-waters/