New satellite images from ImageSat International (ISI) show that China has moved fighter jets onto Woody Island, a hotly contested island in the South China Sea. The images were captured on April 7th and show two Chinese Shenyang J-11s which are comparable to the U.S. Air Force’s F-15 or Navy’s F/A-18 Hornet.
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.
The Chinese HQ-9 radar system, which closely resembles Russia’s S-300 missile system, has a range of 125 miles and can pose a threat to civilian airliners in addition to U.S. military aircraft. Fox News first reported the deployment of the missile system in late February while President Obama was hosting 10 Southeast Asian leaders in Palm Springs.
China has deployed J-11s to Woody Island on separate occasions recently. Fox News reported one deployment in late February, when Secretary of State John Kerry was hosting his Chinese counterpart in Washington. In November, Chinese state-run media showed photos of J-11s on Woody Island as well.
These moves come as China has already built over 3,000 artificial islands, a clear sign they are trying to control a very valuable shipping lane in which $5 trillion worth of goods and natural resources pass through each year.
This is far from the only issue that will be on Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s mind as he heads to the Philippines to discuss regional security concerns. Just 200 miles off the coast of Manilla, Chinese ships were tracked near the other disputed Island of Scarborough Shoal.
The Chinese government denies trying to militarize the area, and urged the U.S. to stop attempting to infringe on their claims. The most notable example was when a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer came within 12 miles of Triton Island, another island in the chain that includes Woody Island.
These islands are disputed by nations like Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Malaysia. Check out this great infographic to get a better idea:
How will this end? Will China gain full control? Sound off in the comments below!