Vietnam has secretly fortified islands in the South China Sea with Israeli-made mobile rocket launchers. The decision to fortify the islands is being called one of the most assertive moves made by the Vietnamese military in decades. Conflicting claims over waters and islands in the South China Sea have caused the Chinese to openly and aggressively militarize the area. Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan all have overlapping claims with China. Other countries have begun to militarize the area in preparation for a possible attack or military show of force made the Chinese in an attempt to “bully” or intimidate other nations that have conflicting claims.
Vietnam has reportedly fortified five bases on the Spratly islands, located in the South China Sea, over the course of several months. The launchers have been strategically shipped to areas that will allow the Vietnamese to strike Chinese-controlled islands and military establishments in the area, according to Reuters. Officials believe the rockets were shipped from Hanoi’s “Extra” rocket artillery system that was recently acquired from Israel.
The missiles reportedly have a range of up to 93 miles and and can carry 150g warheads that can attack multiple targets at once. Carl Thayer, an official at the Australian Defense Force Academy specializing in Vietnam’s military, states that Vietnam sees China’s recent militarization of the area as a direct threat to their country and that the missile launchers are defensive in nature. Vice reported a statement made by Thayer on the issue:
“China’s runways and military installations in the Spratlys are a direct challenge to Vietnam, particularly in their southern waters and skies, and they are showing they are prepared to respond to that threat.”
Thayer went on to state that it is highly unlikely that the Chinese will view the move as anything but an offensive threat. Vietnamese diplomats and military officials have reported to Reuters that the missile launchers are not currently operation but could retrofitted with rocket artillery rounds within two or three days if needed.
Many Western officials believe that the recent move by Vietnam will increase tensions in the area.