An advanced surface-to-air missile system has been deployed by the Chinese military to one of its contested islands in the South China Sea.
According to civilian satellite imagery shows evidence that China is increasingly “militarizing” its islands in the South China Sea and ramping up tensions in the region. U.S. officials said.
The imagery from ImageSat International (ISI) shows two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers as well as a radar system on Woody Island, part of the Paracel Island chain in the South China Sea.
The missiles arrived over the past week. According to the images, a beach on the island was empty on Feb. 3, but the missiles were visible by Feb. 14.
It is the same island chain where a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed close to another contested island a few weeks ago. China at the time vowed “consequences” for the action.
Pentagon officials confirmed the accuracy of the photos. The official said the imagery viewed appears to show the HQ-9 air defense system, which closely resembles Russia’s S-300 missile system. It has a range of 125 miles, which would pose a threat to any airplanes, civilians or military, flying close by.
The U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Harry Harris said the deployment of missiles to the Paracels would not be a surprise but would be a concern, and be contrary to China’s pledge not to militarize the region.
Admiral Harry Harris said it will continue conducting “freedom of navigation patrols” by ships and aircraft to assure unimpeded passage through the region, where Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims. – R. Beerlak