Exclusive: Vietnam moves new rocket launchers into disputed S.China Sea – sources

Yongshu Reef (Fiery Cross Reef) airport.

Yongshu Reef (Fiery Cross Reef) airport.

Subi Reef airport. News.cn photo

Subi Reef airport. News.cn photo

Vietnam has discreetly fortified several of its islands in the disputed South China Sea with new mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China’s runways and military installations across the vital trade route, according to Western officials.

Mischief Reef airport. news.cn photo

Mischief Reef airport. news.cn photo

Diplomats and military officers told Reuters that intelligence shows Hanoi has shipped the launchers from the Vietnamese mainland into position on five bases in the Spratly islands in recent months, a move likely to raise tensions with Beijing.

The launchers have been hidden from aerial surveillance and they have yet to be armed, but could be made operational with rocket artillery rounds within two or three days, according to the three sources.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry said the information was “inaccurate”, without elaborating.

Deputy Defence Minister, Senior Lieutenant-General Nguyen Chi Vinh, told Reuters in Singapore in June that Hanoi had no such launchers or weapons ready in the Spratlys but reserved the right to take any such measures.

“It is within our legitimate right to self-defense to move any of our weapons to any area at any time within our sovereign territory,” he said.

The move is designed to counter China’s build-up on its seven reclaimed islands in the Spratlys archipelago. Vietnam’s military strategists fear the building runways, radars and other military installations on those holdings have left Vietnam’s southern and island defenses increasingly vulnerable.

Military analysts say it is the most significant defensive move Vietnam has made on its holdings in the South China Sea in decades.

Hanoi wanted to have the launchers in place as it expected tensions to rise in the wake of the landmark international court ruling against China in an arbitration case brought by the Philippines, foreign envoys said.

The ruling last month, stridently rejected by Beijing, found no legal basis to China’s sweeping historic claims to much of the South China Sea.

Vietnam, China and Taiwan claim all of the Spratlys while the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim some of the area.

“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly islands and nearby waters,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a faxed statement on Wednesday. “China resolutely opposes the relevant country illegally occupying parts of China’s Spratly islands and reefs and on these illegally occupied Spratly islands and reefs belonging to China carrying out illegal construction and military deployments.”

The United States is also monitoring developments closely.

“We continue to call on all South China Sea claimants to avoid actions that raise tensions, take practical steps to build confidence, and intensify efforts to find peaceful, diplomatic solutions to disputes,” a State Department official said.


Foreign officials and military analysts believe the launchers form part of Vietnam’s state-of-art EXTRA rocket artillery system recently acquired from Israel.

EXTRA rounds are highly accurate up to a range of 150 km (93 miles), with different 150 kg (330 lb) warheads that can carry high explosives or bomblets to attack multiple targets simultaneously. Operated with targeting drones, they could strike both ships and land targets.

That puts China’s 3,000-metre runways and installations on Subi, Fiery Cross and Mischief Reef within range of many of Vietnam’s tightly clustered holdings on 21 islands and reefs.

While Vietnam has larger and longer range Russian coastal defense missiles, the EXTRA is considered highly mobile and effective against amphibious landings. It uses compact radars, so does not require a large operational footprint – also suitable for deployment on islets and reefs.

“When Vietnam acquired the EXTRA system, it was always thought that it would be deployed on the Spratlys…it is the perfect weapon for that,” said Siemon Wezeman, a senior arms researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

There is no sign the launchers have been recently test fired or moved.

China took its first Spratlys possessions after a sea battle against Vietnam’s then weak navy in 1988. After the battle, Vietnam said 64 soldiers with little protection were killed as they tried to protect a flag on South Johnson reef – an incident still acutely felt in Hanoi.

In recent years, Vietnam has significantly improved its naval capabilities as part of a broader military modernization, including buying six advanced Kilo submarines from Russia.

Carl Thayer, an expert on Vietnam’s military at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said the deployment showed the seriousness of Vietnam’s determination to militarily deter China as far as possible.

“China’s runways and military installations in the Spratlys are a direct challenge to Vietnam, particularly in their southern waters and skies, and they are showing they are prepared to respond to that threat,” he said. “China is unlikely to see this as purely defensive, and it could mark a new stage of militarization of the Spratlys.”

Trevor Hollingsbee, a former naval intelligence analyst with the British defense ministry, said he believed the deployment also had a political factor, partly undermining the fear created by the prospect of large Chinese bases deep in maritime Southeast Asia.

“It introduces a potential vulnerability where they was none before – it is a sudden new complication in an arena that China was dominating,” he said.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington, Michael Martina in Beijing and Martin Petty in Hanoi.; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Source: Reuters “Exclusive: Vietnam moves new rocket launchers into disputed S.China Sea – sources”

Note: This is Reuters report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

5 Comments on “Exclusive: Vietnam moves new rocket launchers into disputed S.China Sea – sources”

  1. Fre Okin says:

    Typical Vietnamese behavior. Sneaking military personnel and hardware to the Spratlys. No wonder news sites never report their 2500+ troops presence while they focus on China artificial islands only. Disgusting news reporting.

    It is obvious Vietnam feel guilty for occupying half the Spratlys illegally with over 2500 troops there and now feel threatened by China.

    China however is not silly and won’t disturb the Vietnamese illegal occupation. What China Really Want is harvesting the fishes, oil, gas in the Spratlys, plus some tourism Undisturbed.

    Coming real soon, the Chinese with their massive fishing boats will fish around the Vietnamese Spratlys as well as the Philippines, up to 12 NM. VN should do nothing as this is within International Law per PCA ‘rock’ ruling on Taiping Island.

    As for national security, China is forced to build up the artificial islands, Directed At US presence in the South China Sea, In Particular her hidden submarines with massive amount of Tomahawks trying to do a Pearl Harbor on Hainan. This is the primary reason why China have the Forward Deploy artificial islands Defense to keep US out. There will be plenty of Chinese navy ships and helicopters and Haiyan UUV drones launched from the artificial islands to monitor US presence.

    China may even have a few Mobile Floating Platforms near the Vietnamese outpost to take out this new EXTRA missile launchers. These Mobile Floating Platforms will be a signal to US as well. They will probably be placed between Fiery Cross Reef and Cam Ranh Bay, somewhat like the Japanese Izumo-class helicopter destroyer deck.

    Chinese future additional militarisation of the Spratlys, Scarborough Shoal will be Mobile in nature, making it harder to target them.

    If Vietnam dare to attack the Chinese artificial islands, Cam Ranh Bay will be first target, perhaps Hanoi as well. China will actually find it a Great Opportunity to occupy a few of the Vietnamese ‘islands’ facing nearer to the major commercial trade lane, especially those near Fiery Cross Reef. This will further strengthen China’s Control in the South China Sea.


    • Simon says:

      It was a mistake Vietnam made public that it want to upheld the July 12th PCA ruling along with the Philipines with the mistaken belief that it invalidate only China’s claim and not their own.It was a big mistake. China did not accept the ruling but Vietnam did and now look foolish because they have just given up its claims to swathes of SCS, not only that they have also proceeded if not already militarise its holdings which conveniently gave China a reason to militarize their own islands. The finger of blame of militarisaition in the SCS cannot be now be pointed at China but on Vietnam.


  2. Steve says:

    I believe its standard military procedures. It will most definitely encourage China’s militarisation on their own strategic islands. Wonderful excuse.


  3. johnleecan says:

    This is great. An unpredictable outcome if ever war will start. You’ll never know who will be the other participants. Asians killing Asians. It’s like what the west had planned. Until today, Americans can’t get over their defeat from the China trained Vietnamese. Even thousands of Chinese wearing Vietnamese military uniform fought the Ame!ricans back then. But the ungrateful Vietnamese are so greedy.

    The Americans are now all smiles because their agents have influenced the Vietnamese to be anti-Chinese. Now, the Americans can watch from the sidelines two former allies during the Vietnam war butchering each other while hoping the Vietnamese will buy weapons from them.


    • Simon says:

      Since Vietnam War the Vietnamese got close to USSR and wage conflict with China. These two werent allies for the last 40 years so what the Americans did only encourage but not change Vietnam’s position. Vietnam was and never intend to be an SCO member and that says a lot about its relationship with China.