The Conundrum of China’s Devilish Speed in Building Artificial Islands

A satellite image shows what CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative says appears to be anti-aircraft guns and what are likely to be close-in weapons systems (CIWS) on the artificial island Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea in this image released on December 13, 2016. Courtesy CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe/Handout via REUTERS

Meiji Island (Mischief Reef) with airstrip completed.

A satellite image shows what CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative says appears to be anti-aircraft guns and what are likely to be close-in weapons systems (CIWS) on the artificial island Subi Reef in the South China Sea in this image released on December 13, 2016. Courtesy CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe/Handout via REUTERS

I mentioned in my article “The Conundrum of China’s Massive Island Building in South China Sea” yesterday, according to Chinese navy’s plan, building two artificial islands on Fiery Cross and Mischief Reefs costs $5 billion and takes a decade. Now, it takes China a little over one year to complete the construction of seven large artificial islands. There shall be lots of equipment to build them at such devilish speed and most of the equipment will remain idle for a long time after construction of the islands has been completed as there will be no further need for them for quite a long time. The excessive number of equipment used for fast construction greatly increased the costs of construction.

Why such devilish high speed?

On October 21, 2015, Defense editor for The National Interest Dave Majumdar gives an answer to the question in his article titled “China’s Greatest Fear: U.S. Navy ‘Cruise Missile Carriers’”.

According to the article, US Navy shall build additional Ohio Replacement Program submarines to serve as cruise missile carriers for attacking Chinese homeland as it is too risky for US aircraft carriers to go within the range of China’s DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles to enable its fighter jets to attack China as US carrier-based warplanes’ range is limited.

Other US military experts are also of the opinion that US aircraft carriers are vulnerable to the saturate attack of not only DF-21Ds but also anti-ship cruise missiles; therefore, they believe that the US shall use submarine-launched cruise missiles to conduct first strike to neutralize Chinese land-based defense so that US carriers my come near China to conduct the second strike.

Chinese strategists certainly know that even US existing attack nuclear submarines can launch more than one thousand cruise missiles to conduct the first strike from the South China Sea. As US military interference with China’s disputes with its neighbors, especially the Philippines, seemed imminent, China had to build up a network of artificial islands to deploy an anti-submarine network to detect and track US submarines and have anti-submarine aircrafts and helicopters deployed on the islands to destroy US submarines when they have attacked China. It is precisely due to such defense urgency that China made such huge investment to build artificial islands so quickly.

Now, with those artificial islands, China is able to deploy enough anti-submarine facilities and firepower no matter how many ballistic missile submarines the US will build and deploy in the South China Sea. They constitute effective deterrence to US submarine attack of Chinese homeland.

As for surface fleets, a US study believes that a floating island together with two aircraft carriers is equivalent to 5 aircraft carriers. The three airports on three artificial islands in the Spratly Islands will be equivalent to at lease 9 aircraft carriers as they may support and supplement one another. Moreover, fixed artificial islands can carry much heavier loads than floating ones; therefore, they may have even greater firepower. For example, heavy fighter jets, fighter/bombers and bombers can take off from the long runway on the three islands to dominate the airspace and sink all US warships even without the help of the anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles from China’s southeastern coast.

As a result, in a war between China and the US, South China Sea will become forbidden area to US navy.

I mentioned in my article yesterday China’s defense strategy in establishing its Sansha prefecture-level city. When Sansha has grown into a true prefecture-level city, US warships will be sailing within the city when it patrols the South China Sea. They will thus be in a very dangerous position in sailing within a Chinese city. The establishment of Sansha City has thus put an end to US hegemony in the South China Sea!

However, if the city is established merely for military purpose, it will be a heavy financial burden on the state. The development of fishery, fish farming, energy exploitation and tourism will enable China to recover the costs and even make profits from the city. In that way, China is able to do more things in developing its military with a military budget much smaller than America’s.

Moreover, only by the establishment of Sansha City in the South China Sea can China really have the area claimed by it. A country’s marine area does not exist in map or its claim. There has to be extensive physical presence. The artificial islands, the permanent residents and tourists on them, the fish farming, the energy exploitation, the fishing boats and perhaps the floating islands that China will build there in the future will be China’s actual presence there. Only in that way will China be really benefited by its rights and interests in the area.

Article by Chan Kai Yee


9 Comments on “The Conundrum of China’s Devilish Speed in Building Artificial Islands”

  1. Fre Okin says:

    China should quickly build expendable tethered version of the Yuanmeng aerostat armed with a couple of at least Mach 3-4 rocket torpedoes that can hit US subs at least 500 NM away. After disengaging the tether, the Yuanmeng can float much higher to monitor a much bigger range. Tethering is needed to deal with inclement weather. By having at least one each around Fiery, Subi, Mischief, China will be able to keep US subs outside of the Spratlys, giving her enough warning time to deal with subs firing over a thousand miles away. The threat inside the 500 NM radius will thus be removed.

    Even though Yuanmeng is still in testing stage, it will have a very important psychological effect to scare USN from sailing her surface ships and subs too near to Chinese islands.

    Ohio subs can unload all her 154 Tomahawks in under 20 minutes and China need a very fast rocket torpedo, at least a couple on each Yuanmeng, ready to launch from her artificial islands in time of impending war. Reaction to Ohio firings will be instant as the Yuanmeng will be just as capable as space satellites and HALE drones but have advantage of being able to carry heavier payloads.

    Yuanmeng is also extremely useful to monitor torpedoes fired from Vietnamese Kilo subs since the distance from Fiery Cross Reef to Cam Ranh Bay is only about 300+ NM. Chinese IR technology should be able to track the missile once fired, especially at night. It is much easier to track the cluster of Tomahawks with much bigger IR signature.

    Finally China should warn neighboring countries HEMP bombs will not be ruled out in the 500 NM – 1000 NM radius outside the Spratlys to knock Tomahawks and other enemy objects out of the sky. This should encourage them to kick USN out of their neighborhood.



    • Steve says:

      Nice write up… But, It would be a large scale war of massive proportions if US fires 1,000 cruise missiles first strike from the SCS. China’s hypersonic warheads would be heading towards US mainland. A space war on satellites is unavoidable. China need to further advance on it’s hypersonic delivery, I believe it is one of China’s best counter offensive. The US has many bases surrounding the motherland, especially Japan hoping for a breakout of war between US and China.


      • Fre Okin says:

        Keep in mind The Art Of War. The whole idea is Avoidance Of War and by Showing US China can Terminate her submarines within about 500 NM of the artificial islands perimeters, USN will not dare to sail her subs too close.

        It is a Game of Intimidation and China Have To Show she can Counter Intimidate USN so US will see she do not have an invincible component to harass China. THEN there will be an Uneasy Peace, Winning Through Art Of War without firing a single bullet. Maybe in a couple of decades US will get tired of her foolish antics and Go Home.

        As I said, never mind Yuanmeng is not yet ready. Just like F35 not yet ready, just having them placed on the islands while China continue to improve on them is enough to force the enemy to think twice before starting a war with China.

        Further I would like to say China insistence on James Shoal as part if her territory is very important as it can anchor future Mobile Floating Platform like Scarborough Shoal/Huangyan island. This will take care of US subs operating in the outer band where Tomahawks could be fired from the Sulu and Celebes seas perhaps.

        USN and Japanese navy had practised there off Sabah, Sarawak at the southern tip of the SCS about a year ago after the Malabar naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal with India. What US and Japan had done I think was to coordinate how to attack Chinese targets from those areas, so Chinese navy should increase surveillance there and lay down plenty of crab torpedoes at strategic spots.


        • Steve says:

          Agree – good write up…Then, China need to reclaim Huangyan island to form that perfect triangle with the Spratlys and Paracels islands, in case a future ADIZ is required. What will China do without offending the Philippines when both nations are entering a new phase of geopolitics. Philippines could form a strategic partnership with China, but as long as it allows itself to be dictated by the US military bases, China will be suspicious of the next President. I feel that President Duterte’s relationship with China is extremely important during his term of office – politically, economically and militarily. To gain China’s trust, the Philippines need to divorce itself from the military alliance with the US. Without the Alliance, it’s time for the US to go home or retreat to Japan and Guam.


  2. Steve says:

    Great Post – Excellent Commentary … China would sorely missed Zhongyi Island illegally occupied and stolen be the Philippines. Being centrally located in the SCS, China can geographically control the seascape. Zhongyi island can easily be engineered and the size extended to a formidable usable land and secure military outpost. China may have to negotiate and secure either one of the two islands of Zhongye and Huangyan.


    • Anonymous says:

      Mr xi jin ping when you have 50,000 nukes China will be at peace for 50,000 years


    • Mad Max says:

      Using Chinese names for the islands states categorically the islands belongs to China. Using English names continues the Western narrative that the islands does not belong to China. Well done. The use of Chinese names for the islands is supported to the hilt.


      • Mad Max says:

        Mr Duterte understands that there IS a War currently going on between China and the U.S. and the battleground IS the South China Sea. The Chinese wants to kick the Americans OUT of East Asia while the Amerikan imperialists wants to maintain their hegemony here.

        Mr Duterte realizes it is foolish for any littoral country to be caught in this War.
        Philippines involvement , or rather, the unthinking utilization of Philippines by Washington as a sacrificial pawn in this battle chessboard IS a foolish policy. One is asking to be an unnecessary victim. SOmewhat like Laos and Cambodia previously.

        Better let the elephants fight it out and get OUT of the way. Why place Philippines in the crosshairs? Only closet CIA assets like racist village thugs and thieves like Alberto del Rosario, Yasay P, and Lazana wants other country’s territory. It is a lost cause and Duterte knows it but not these corrupt avaricious fools.


        • Steve says:

          Agreed – Historically, Filipino Presidents have allowed the country to be prostituted by foreign powers, they believe it’s a good thing. They have been seduced and hoodwinked by American culture that Filipinos are proud to call themselves the 51st state of USA. Such mongrel delusion is beyond anyone’s belief. Americans just simply walk into the 51st Filipino state without a visa and poor Filipinos need to apply for a visa to enter their adopted motherland.

          President Duterte said he wants the Chinese develope infrastructures to be visible on Filipino land before his presidential term of office ends. I suppose China has to entertain the President’s greed and delusion. And I suppose it will be his legacy to the Filipinos. It’s simply not easy to find a good Filipino President, but so far Duterte is reasonably good except for those 6,000 dead druggies.

          I believe China need to secure Zhongye Island, maybe an exchange with Huangyan island, although both properties belong to China, in a way to save Philippine face instead of capturing Filipinos and driving them out. China can still maintain fishing rights with PH around Huangyan island.