China has nearly completed the construction of an airstrip on one of its artificial islands in the hotly disputed South China Sea, according to new satellite photos released by Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), part of the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
The island is one of a number of artificial land masses created in the sea’s Spratly archipelago by dredging up rock and sand from the seafloor and building the material onto already existing reefs, the BBC reports. The Spratly archipelago contains more than 100 small islands or reefs, and its ownership, wholly claimed by China, is disputed by several other countries including Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines.
The photos show a 10,000-foot-long runway on the Spratly’s Fiery Cross Reef. In May, a U.S. military commander told Reuters the airstrip could be ready to use by the end of the year, although the photos, taken June 28, suggest it could be operational sooner. The airstrip is long and large enough to handle most Chinese military aircraft, The Guardian reports.
“China continues to pave and mark the airstrip, and an apron and taxiway have been added adjacent to the runway,” according to the AMTI. China also appears to have filled in a small lake that used to be in the center of the island, and personnel have been seen walking around the island, according to the group. Two helipads, up to 10 satellite communications antennas and a possible radar tower are also visible on the island, which is about 1.06 square miles.
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SOURCE: Newsweek, Lucy Westcott