China Deploys Fighters to S. China Sea Island

File image courtesy U.S. Dept. of Defense

Published Apr 12, 2016 9:09 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Tuesday, Fox News reported new exclusive satellite imagery by ImageSat International showing Chinese J-11 fighters deployed to Woody Island in the South China Sea's Paracel chain.

The two aircraft are a modified version of the Russian Sukhoi Su-27, a fighter comparable to an American F/A-18 Hornet, and represent an escalation of Chinese military capability on Woody Island - where the People's Liberation Army also recently deployed an advanced air-defense system based on the Russian S-300. Fox said that the photos also showed a new fire control radar for that system, making it fully operational. 

The veracity of the photos and their interpretation has been confirmed by U.S. defense officials, Fox said. 

Woody Island is also claimed by Vietnam and by Taiwan. 

Analyst Henik Paulsson with the Lowy Interpreter estimates total Chinese fighter assets near the region at over 320 aircraft, including over 100 of the J-11 model. By comparison, Vietnam fields about 100 in total, including 40 modern Su-30s; Malaysia has 60, including 20 modern fighters; and the Philippines has only 12 light attack FA-50s, based on the T-50 small jet trainer. 

The news of the forward deployment of Chinese fighters comes shortly before U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter visits the Philippines to discuss tensions in the South China Sea and bilateral military cooperation. His meetings with Philippine leaders are also expected to mark the formal conclusion of a base-sharing agreement, which will station American forces on Philippine shores for the first time in more than two decades. The U.S. will also provide millions of dollars in military aid, plus surveillance blimps to monitor the Philippine's island claims.

American forces deployed on Mindanao are also expected to contribute intelligence and trailing for Philippine anti-terrorism efforts against the Islamic extremist group Abu Sayyaf, which was responsible for two maritime hijacking and kidnapping incidents in recent weeks. 

While Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged not to militarize China's claims in the Spratly Islands, he has not mentioned the Paracels, and China's Foreign Ministry has maintained that the nation has a legitimate right to emplace forces for self-defense on Woody Island.