China installs rocket launchers on reef in disputed waters
China has stationed rocket launchers on a reef in the Spratly Islands as Beijing continues to militarize its outposts in disputed waters of the South China Sea.
China’s state-run Defence Times newspaper reported on a social media account that the country installed rocket launcher systems on Fiery Cross Reef, which is controlled by China but also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. The rocket system can discover, identify and attack enemy combat divers and was installed in part as a response to Vietnamese divers placing fishing nets near the Paracel Islands in 2014, Reuters reported.
Reports of the launcher installation surfaced just two days after China and Vietnam issued a joint statement saying they had agreed to “manage and properly control maritime disputes, not take any actions to complicate the situation or expand the dispute, and maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
China has invested heavily in military infrastructure at Fiery Cross Reef, including the construction of an airport. The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), which is a project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reported in March 2017 that major construction on China’s three largest manmade islands in the Spratlys is nearly finished, allowing China to deploy mobile missile launchers or fighter jets whenever it wants.
Three of China’s seven man-made islands in the Spratlys — including Fiery Cross — have military-grade airfields, AMTI reported. (Pictured: Chinese soldiers patrol at Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands.)
China contends its military construction on the islands is defensive in nature, but many Indo-Asia-Pacific neighbors and the United States contend Beijing is trying to control the potentially lucrative waterway in which U.S. $5 trillion in trade passes each year.
In a March 2017 report, AMTI said China’s three air bases in the Spratly Islands will allow it to operate military aircraft over nearly the entire South China Sea. Each island also has hangars that can accommodate 24 fighter jets and four larger planes. China also has constructed hardened shelters with retractable roofs for mobile missile launchers on the islands, AMTI says.
The Norinco CS/AR-1 55 mm rocket defense systems deployed at Fiery Cross Reef launch high-explosive rockets that can travel an estimated 500 meters, according to the company’s presentation at a 2014 air show in China. The munitions cause underwater shockwaves that can kill or injure frogmen near the point of detonation.
The weapon is more effective in littoral waters closer to shore. A report in IHS Jane’s said blast effects vary depending on the depth and water conditions.