Home » News & Analysis » China Reclaimed Land for South China Sea Anti-Submarine Helicopter Base Near Vietnam


China Reclaimed Land for South China Sea Anti-Submarine Helicopter Base Near Vietnam

PLAN Chinese Z-18F Anti-Submarine Helicopter

PLAN Chinese Z-18F Anti-Submarine Helicopter

The People’s Liberation Army is building a South China Sea helicopter base that could be a key node in a Chinese anti-submarine warfare (ASW) network across the region, according to new satellite images and analysis shared with USNI News on Friday.

The imagery — first published on news site The Diplomat — show what appears to be extensive reclamation work to build could easily be an ASW helicopter base on Duncan Island, about 200 miles from the coast of Vietnam in the disputed Paracel Islands.

The base “could signal a step-up in China’s ASW capabilities across the South China Sea. A network of helicopter bases and refueling stops scattered across the South China Sea, using no more than the bases China is already known to be building, would make almost any coordinate in the sea reachable,” read the analysis by Victor Robert Lee.
“By hopscotching between bases, the [ASW] helicopter fleet would be unconstrained by fuel range or limited numbers of ship-borne landing berths, creating a continuous and contiguous web of surveillance and response capability.”

thediplomat_2016-02-12_15-55-05The analysis went on to say “such a web would have utility beyond anti-submarine warfare, and would probably reshape surface ship and aerial combat strategies in the region,” Lee wrote.

In reaction to the revelation, Pentagon officials reiterated their call for all South China Sea nations to island reclamation work, in a Sunday statement to USNI News

“The United Sates continues to call on all claimants to halt land reclamation, construction and militarization of features in the South China Sea,” spokesman Cmdr. Bill Urban told USNI News. “While the United States does not take a position on sovereignty claims to land features, we have growing concerns about China’s pattern of assertive behavior, which creates uncertainties about China’s strategic intentions.”

Naval analyst Eric Wertheim told USNI News last week, if the analysis holds up, it would give the Chinese more military options regionally.

“If it turns out to be true. It’s another example of China exercising its effort to control the South China Sea,” the author of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets of the World said.
“From a military perspective it certainly has an impact as these bases can serve as unsinkable aircraft carriers.”

According to Wertheim, the bases could sustain and act as lily pads for the PLAN’s new Changhe Z-18F ASW variant – based on the French SA 321 Super Frelon heavy lift helicopter – which have a range of 450 nautical miles. The Duncan Island installation would put the helicopters easily in range of Vietnam’s maritime territory.

thediplomat_2016-02-12_15-55-13In September, Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris told the Senate how he viewed the expanded installations across the entire region.

“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,” Harris said.
“These are obviously easy targets in war, it’s what we call in the military, “grapes” if you will, but short of that, the militarization of these features pose a threat against all other countries in the region.”

News of the base comes as Vietnam is in the midst of modernizing its submarine force to include six Russian-built improved Kilo-class diesel electric attack submarines. The submarines, acquired for the maritime defense of Vietnam’s substantial coastline, are part of a Hanoi naval expansion that would assert Vietnam claims in the region.

The disparity between the Vietnamese Navy and the PLAN and China’s heavily armed coast guard ships, was highlighted in 2014. That May, China sent a $1 billion offshore oil platform inside Vietnam’s disputed economic exclusion zone (EEZ) and had ringed it with ships to prevent challenges. If China, for example, made a similar attempt in the future, it could make it riskier for Vietnams reconstituted submarine force to intercede with closer ASW helicopters.

While the reclamation work in the Paracels – where last month the U.S. sent the guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54) on a freedom of navigation operation – is not as controversial as the ongoing work the Chinese have done to build artificial islands in the Spratly Islands near the Philippines.

In the last two years China has turned low tide elevations into military-style installations – though China insists they aren’t for military use.

Victor Robert Lee image.The Chinese controlled territories in the Paracels – on the other hand – are recognized land features that China has controlled since the mid-1970s while Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims.

In addition expanding the territory on Duncan Island by more than 50 percent in the last year, China has also expanded its Paracel holdings at its airbase at Woody Island, North Island and Tree Island.

“The recent developments at Tree, North, and Duncan islands indicate that Beijing is augmenting its position in the Paracels, which have been overshadowed of late by China’s epic construction projects in the Spratlys,” Lee wrote.
The changes in progress will in the Paracels “probably reshape surface ship and aerial combat strategies in the region.”

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Categories: News & Analysis
Sam LaGrone

About Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He was formerly the U.S. Maritime Correspondent for the Washington D.C. bureau of Jane’s Defence Weekly and Jane’s Navy International. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.

  • Marjus

    The problem with this whole island situation is that short of war they are a VERY GOOD way of demonstrating and enforcing your status and rule over a claimed territory or space. However, the moment a single shot is fired and war begins, they can all be taken out in the course of 24-48 hours, which makes them useless from that point on. Now China is very well aware that disputed territory hosting Chinese forces is not the mainland, and so it will not be spared from attack nor will China respond to an attacker via nuclear means because some atoll that was never Chinese is not worth Beijing or Shanghai.

  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    That Helo in the photo looks like a European design, did the Chinese buy or steal it? As to the these little islands being taken out. One would think the Chinese would already have plans for a layer defense system for each island as well as some kind of mutual suppose plan already develop to keep these as the new frontier wall to the Chinese Middle Kingdom Mentality to protect them from barbarians.

    • sferrin

      “That Helo in the photo looks like a European design, did the Chinese buy or steal it?” As they frequently do – both. Much easier to copy if you have an actual unit or three to study.

      • 3xposed

        13 SA 321 Super Frelon were acquired by China from France between 1977-78.

    • learnengrish

      US stole B2 designed from the NAZI’s too.

      whats the difference?

      • disqus_zommBwspv9

        Interesting the Horten ho 229 first flew in early 1945. Jacks Northrop N-9M first flew in 1942. In fact the N9 was restored and has flown at airshows since 2004. Then the YB-35 flown in 1946 Maybe Northrop and Horten brothers or maybe Alexander Lippisch could have been an influence on both of them.

  • vincedc

    Don’t worry….global warming will have all these islands underwater next month. Sorry….couldn’t resist.

  • G Man

    The real fact here in South china sea is that China started all of these serious provocation by building Fake islands near or in the INTERNATIONAL SEA LANE. Controlling was the main objective of China. China as a communist country has a solid control of their news and people and now they want to control the SCS with their dubious claims in SCS based on their nine dashline map created by its own people. They even claims their own history and disregarding other country’s history on south china sea 
    China is so greedy that it has drawn a map too close to other countries. 
    No single country should own the South China sea and support it with bogus claims.
    China is just a bully, greedy, selfish and deceitful country. 
    South china sea must govern by laws not China’s might. Period.

    • 3xposed

      Negative, the fact is Vietnam started land reclamation on reefs, aka fake islands, as early as 2012 so they would be the initiator. Just because they could not do it on the scale that China is doing does not lessen the significance of who provoked who.

      • G Man

        I can smell a Chinese person or a chinese person with fake name here.
        THE TRUTH HURTS YOU SO BADLY. …
        I feel sorry for Chinese people like you that are brainwashed, manipulated and twisted by China’s news propaganda.
        China has a thousands of years of Deceitful and Fabrications of history which China obviously end up creating bogus claims in South china sea contested area.
         The construction projects undertaken by other claimants on their controlled rocks or islands do not seek alter the legal status of those features and are therefore permissible under international law. The massive scale of China’s land reclamation and construction seeks to change the legal status of the features, turning submerged reefs or low-tide elevations into large-scale islands or at least artificial islands. These actions are only legally allowable within a coastal state’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
        The action of China in SCS was very dangerous, serious provocation and irresponsible.
        The truth will prevail in South china sea contested area.
        SOUTH CHINA SEA MUST GOVERN BY LAWS NOT CHINA’S MIGHT. PERIOD.

        • 3xposed

          Actually, you sound like either an anti-Chinese with an agenda or Vietnamese because you’re really sore when pointed out a fact. Just because other claimants are not as openly challenged by the US does not mean their claims are in line with “international law”. Simple research online, not restricted access if you want to accuse me of that, will show you Vietnam started reclaiming reefs in 2012, two years before China even started their mega projects. It’s not to say what China is doing is a great thing but clearly, Vietnam was provoking, now it got a response it doesn’t like. Vietnam occupies many low tide reefs that are far beyond it’s EEZ. How do you account for that? Seems pretty bogus there too.

          You mention about actions only allowed within a state’s EEZ but you seem to omit the fact that the UN does subscribe to the One China policy. Itu Aba occupied by ROC is a bonafide island that is entitled to an EEZ. Reclamation on the other Spratly features all fall within that EEZ range. Reclamation in the Paracels are on real islands themselves.

          • G Man

            Your comments really shows how successful was China in controlling and twisting your brain.
            You really don’t understand the whole story in SCS.
            It is not about who reclaiming the island first.
            The main issue here is that China doesn’t have any sovereignty in SCS contested area based on your nine dashline map created by its own people, actually a Koumintang after world War II.
            Your foreign Minister Wang Yi always been telling people that China has undisputed claims in South china sea contested area where in fact other countries were disputing China’s claims. If someone disputing other claims they should go for arbitration.
            The world doesn’t believe to China’s claims based on your nine dashline map drawn by China’s own people. China is so greedy that it has drawn a map too close to other countries. The south china sea must govern by laws not China’s might. 
            CHINA CANNOT JUST SAY A WORD THAT SOUTH CHINA SEA AS THEIRS AND THE WORLD SHOULD ACCEPT IT. What in the world is China afraid of is exposing their bogus claims. China is just a Bully, Greedy, Selfish, and Deceitful country.

          • learnengrish

            Maybe he might twisted and brain washed but he was right to point out that you were wrong in saying “The real fact here in South china sea is that China started all of these serious provocation by building Fake islands ”

            now are you still going to stick to your above story?

            LOL

          • G Man

            I can smell another chinese person with a fake name and fake picture here.
            The truth hurts you so badly. Pity…
            You also can’t understand the whole story here maybe because of your upbringing in China.
            Tha fact of the matter is that China started building these fake islands with the idea of China’s sovereignty over the contested area based on the nine dashline map created by its own people.
            Like I said before, that China has a thousands of years of Deceitful and Fabrications of history which China obviously end up creating bogus claims in South china sea.
            China doesn’t want to go to International Court or any world organization to back up China’s claims.
            What in the world is China afraid of is exposing their bogus claims in South china sea.
            China doesn’t have any sovereignty in SCS contested area until they present any proof of documents or evidence to support their claims.
            The truth will prevail in South china sea contested area.
            SOUTH CHINA SEA MUST GOVERN BY LAWS NOT CHINA’S MIGHT. PERIOD.

          • learnengrish

            does ” I can smell another fake Chinese” phrase have same meaning as ” sorry im too dumb to debate with you, therefore i’ll just resort to name calling”?

            hehe

          • G Man

            The truth hurts you so badly. Pity…
            Please reread my previous post again and maybe you will learn the real story in South china sea instead of just reading too much of the China’s news propaganda.
            Again. . . China doesn’t own SCS based on the nine dashline map created by its own people. What in the world is China afraid of is exposing their bogus claims in SCS.
            The truth will prevail in South china sea.
            China is just a bully, greedy, selfish and deceitful country.

          • learnengrish

            “i can smell another fake chinese”?

            hehehe

            PS: ” I can smell another fake Chinese” phrase means ” sorry im too dumb to debate with you, therefore i’ll just resort to name calling”

          • G Man

            You are absolutely right to say that you are really too dumb of debating about China’s nine dashline map created by its own people. Maybe because of your upbringing in China. If you were born and raised in China, all you can read were filtered and edited by your Government, even the textbook in your school.
            That is why I understand that you are too dumb to debate China’s bogus claims in South china sea.
            I feel sorry for Chinese people like you that are brainwashed, manipulated and twisted by China’s news propaganda. Pity..pity….pity…

            .

          • 3xposed

            “It is not about who reclaiming the island first.”

            Yet your initial post claimed that China started provacations by building islands. I refuted that with fact and now you’re backtracking saying it’s not about who reclaimed first.

            “The main issue here is that China doesn’t have any sovereignty”

            All of the claimants in the area don’t have clear cut sovereignty. All of them make as greedy a claim as the next. They’ve all committed flagrant violations whether it be unilateral occupations, reclamations, etc. You use too much rhetoric with little facts for argument. Still waiting on how you account for Vietnam’s occupation of low tide features that are beyond it’s EEZ. It’s not legitimate under law since you want to keep mentioning law. Law is something applied equitabilty, not haphazardly with agendas.

            None of the other claimants have gone to arbitration between themselves over their overlapping claims either. Care to explain that one?

          • G Man

            The truth hurts you so badly. Pity.
            You also can’t understand the whole story here maybe because of your upbringing in China. 
            The fact of the matter is that China started building these fake islands with the idea of China’s sovereignty over the contested area based on the nine dashline map created by its own people. 
            Like I said before, that China has a thousands of years of Deceitful and Fabrications of history which China obviously end up creating bogus claims in South china sea. 
            Nobody was brave enough to bring China to international court except the Philippines. China doesn’t want to go to International Court or any world organization to back up China’s claims. 
            What in the world is China afraid of is exposing their bogus claims in South china sea. 
            China doesn’t have any sovereignty in SCS contested area until they present any proof of documents or evidence to support their claims. 
            The truth will prevail in South china sea contested area. 
            SOUTH CHINA SEA MUST GOVERN BY LAWS NOT CHINA’S MIGHT. PERIOD. 
            None of the other claimants have gone to arbitration between themselves over their overlapping claims because Asian countries respect each other and they don’t want to change the 2012 status quo in SCS. Unlike China’s action in SCS were very dangerous, serious provocation and irresponsible.

          • 3xposed

            “None of the other claimants have gone to arbitration between themselves over their overlapping claims because Asian countries respect each other”

            “If someone disputing other claims they should go for arbitration.”

            LOL, busted.

          • G Man

            Your IQ is too low to understand and your idiocy shows on your comments to what I have said. Please reread my previous post again and again, and very slowly so that you will understand.
            I think I need to stop commenting back to you because you really dumb to understand based on your feedback.

          • 3xposed

            Got busted and couldn’t stage a meaningful comeback, so resort to personal insults. You need to stop commenting cuz you have nothing substantial to back your rhetoric. Keep making yourself a fool is you wish. All to easy.

          • G Man

            Maybe I have to point out your dumb feedback for your sanity and understanding of what I have said for the last time.
            You deliberately omitted out some words i have said to point out your idiocy and dumb feedback.
            Read carefully now..

            None of the other claimants have gone to arbitration between themselves over their overlapping claims because Asian countries respect each other and they don’t want to change the 2012 status quo in SCS. Unlike China’s action in SCS were very dangerous, serious provocation and irresponsible. 

            Nobody was brave enough to bring China to international court except the Philippines.
            China doesn’t want to go to International Court or any world organization to back up China’s claims. 
            What in the world is China afraid of is exposing their bogus claims in South china sea. 
            China doesn’t have any sovereignty in SCS contested area until they present any proof of documents or evidence to support their claims. 

            Like I said this is my last comment to you.
            You can comment back but I am sure is will be dumb feedback again

          • Don Bacon

            No court has such jurisdiction.

          • Bob

            “The south china sea must govern by LAWS not China’s might. ” That’s exactly the point.

        • Bob

          Very well-said, indeed.

  • sferrin

    Shocking. (Still steamed over the, “huurrrrrrrr, we still don’t know why they doin’ that” reaction from both the White House and the USN when China started this.)

  • John B. Morgen

    This maybe it’s time to reestablish SEATO, but include Vietnam…..

    • Don Bacon

      That’s a great tribute to the 54,000 US troops who gave their lives trying to defeat the Vietnam government.–not

      • John B. Morgen

        The British Royal Army killed about 4,435 Americans during the so-called Revolutionary War; furthermore, some 2,260 more Americans were killed during the 1812 War. The British have been our primary ally for many decades. The same with the Japanese, which they attacked Pearl Harbor, and killed many Americans during the Pacific War; and the same, with Germany. Adding Vietnam into a new SEATO is prudent—yes! Times have changed Mr. Don Bacon.

        • Don Bacon

          It’s the same Vietnam government, and “commies” to boot, that’s the difference. But nice try.

          • John B. Morgen

            Your counter-rebuttal couldn’t float an American Bismarck—Mr. Don Bacon—please get with the times.

  • Hugh

    Keeping the peace relies on knowing what the other side is doing. “Western” submarines continually gather intelligence all over, including in the SCS. They rely on being undetected. These new Chinese bases, with helicopters and planes, as well as lots more naval and (supposedly) coast guard ships will make their tasks more difficult.

    • Don Bacon

      Yes, China has a submarine base on Hainan island, just adjacent to the SCS and Paracels, so they need to know who’s in their neighborhood and the more the US Navy encroaches, the more China needs to know.

      • sferrin

        That doesn’t justify them building new islands in international waters and claiming them as Chinese territory. Nor is it legal.

        • Don Bacon

          China obviously believes it’s justified, and it’s just as legal as the actions of the other countries which are claiming, building and developing islands.

          • sferrin

            Whether China believes it’s justified is completely irrelevant. They think they own the entire South China Sea. Of course they’re going to think they’re justified. Tell me, who else has built islands, installed SAMs on them, and declared them national territory.

          • Don Bacon

            What China believes is very relevant, which the US Navy failing to achieve anything with its flailing about and its “innocent passage” will soon demonstrate. The Navy will just end up looking stupid, unable to prevail.

    • Hugh

      And of course there would be numerous underwater listening arrays run by various nations – some undoubtedly will be operated from China’s artificial islands.

  • sferrin

    And now they’re putting S-300s on them. Damn, a blind man could have seen this coming. If only we had a blind man in the White House instead of a delusional neophyte.

  • gdwitt

    Funny little flame war with the chinese 50 cent army.

    You’ll never win unless you argue for rule of law.

    The real problem with Vietnam is that it is a totalitarian junta facing off against the same.

    Rule of law needs to become the standard.

    Repeat this: INTERNATIONAL SEA LANE

    Global warming?

    The chinese will just build a mountain if the seas rise.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see them build a hardened concrete airport bunker next year.

    This is serious.