Paracel Islands: China Deploys Multirole Fighters and Fire Control Radar, Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, by Carlyle A. Thayer, 13 April, 2016.
The Background Brief is reproduced below.
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Q1. It has been reported that China has deployed more J-11 jets on Woody Island and installed a fire control radar system as well. What is your assessment of this development? What are Chinese intentions? What is China likely to do next? How should regional states respond?
ANSWER: Satellite imagery taken on April 7 by ImageSat International revealed that China has deployed two additional Shenyang J-11 multirole jet fighters and the Active Electronically Scanned Array or AESA system to Woody Island in the Paracels.
Pentagon officials estimate that China has currently less than ten aircraft on Woody Island, a combination of J-11s and Xian JH-7s. The J-11 is similar to the Russian Su-27. It is an air superiority fighter with a range of 3,530 km according to the journal Air Force Technology.
In February this year China placed eight batteries of the HQ-9 surface-to-air missile system on Woody Island, four are operational. These missiles have a range of nearly 220 km. Now that China has deployed a fire control radar system it will be able to monitor more accurately aircraft movements around the Paracel Islands. The AESA system tracks multiple targets at the same time and gathers data on the target’s range, altitude, direction and speed in order to direct missiles fired from the HQ-9 system.
There are multiple likely explanations for China’s action. Four developments are worth noting: the current Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) military exercises currently underway in the Philippines involving U.S. and other military forces, the impending visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to the Philippines, the announcement that the next U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operational Patrol will take place shortly, and the G7 special statement on maritime security that China
In the longer term, China is sending a signal to the United States that the risks have gone up if the U.S. continues to conduct aerial reconnaissance of sensitive Chinese military installations such as the airfield on Woody island. China could also be demonstrating its capability to deploy small numbers of modern jet aircraft, surfaceto-air missiles and fire control radar at short notice to airstrips in the South China Sea and that the U.S. can take no action to prevent China from doing so.
Defence intelligence sources in Canberra reportedly are concerned that China is poised to step up its assertion of control over the Spratly islands possibly by starting construction at Scarborough Shoal. This would be part of China’s planned response to any adverse decision by the U.N Arbitral Tribunal deliberating on the Philippines’ claim against China.
China’s actions represent a step towards further militarization of the South China Sea and contribute to raising tensions and making the resolution of territorial disputes more complex.
Chinese activities in the Paracels and Spratlys need to be closely monitored by littoral states as well as by the United States, Australia, Japan and Taiwan. These countries should share information on a timely basis.
Regional states should also be calm. China’s actions do not upset the balance of naval power. China is seeking to deter the United States not provoke a fight.
The United States should reiterate its assurances that it will remain engaged in the South China Sea. Secretary Carter should reaffirm U.S. support for the Philippines. And Vietnam’s leaders should raise their concerns when President Obama visits next month.
Carlyle A. Thayer, “Paracel Islands: China Deploys Multirole Fighters and Fire Control Radar,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, April 13, 2016.
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Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.
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