China has reportedly completed the runway on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea, and is getting closer to making it operational.
According to IHS Jane’s, Airbus Defence and Space imagery taken on 20 September showed the presence of helipads and bearings painted on the 3,125m-long runway on the island.
The new finding reveals that China completed bearings of 050° at one end and 230° the other.
Analysis of new satellite imagery from IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly stated developments on the reef will allow China to potentially start air patrols over the disputed Spratly Islands.
Images taken in March revealed the start of construction of the first airstrip in the islands. The latest analysis suggests the new development occurred in recent weeks.
US Pacific Command commander admiral Harry Harris was quoted by USNI News saying: "If you look at all of these facilities, and you could imagine a network of missiles sites, runways for their fifth generation fighters and surveillance sites and all that, it creates a mechanism in which China would have de facto control over the South China Sea in any scenario short of war."
According to IHS Jane’s analysis, China continue to build multiple structures on the island, including a seawall in the harbour, and concrete road networks.
The analysis sees dumping of topsoil along the side of the runway as the first attempts to grow food on the island or could be the start of landscaping designed to prevent erosion.
The report also revealed that China completed works on the smaller islands at Hughes, McKennan, Johnson South, Cuateron, and Gaven reefs and intalled communication and military hardware. Dredging still continues at Subi and Mischief Reefs.
Image: Images taken on 20 September shows the presence of helipads and bearings painted on the 3,125m-long runway on the island. Photo: courtesy of CNES 2015, Distribution Airbus DS / 2015 IHS: 1640203.