China Is Deploying Airships in the South China Sea

Michael Peck

China is deploying airships in the South China Sea.

An Israeli satellite imagery company has posted a photo of an aerostat – a tethered balloon – floating over a Chinese island-base in the disputed region.

“For the first time, #China's aerostat, probably for #military #intelligence-gathering purposes, seen by #ISI at #Mischief Reef,” tweeted Imagesat Intl. The use of #aerostat allows China a continuous situational awareness in this resource-rich region.”

Mischief Reef is an atoll enclosing a lagoon to the east of the Spratly Islands. China has constructed an artificial island on the reef, that includes a harbor and airfield. This is one of several Chinese artificial islands in the region, which are armed with anti-ship and anti-anticraft missiles, radar, runways and barracks. They are Beijing’s way of attempting to permanently assert its sovereignty over the South China Sea, whose waters – rich in oil and other natural resources – are claimed by several nations, including Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan.

China has been building an early-warning system of aerostats since 2017, according to the South China Morning Post. “Huge balloons were fitted with phased-array radars to help detect low-flying incoming planes,”

“Aerostats are being deployed in some of China’s strategic hotspots such as the country’s border with North Korea and the Taiwan Strait,” said the Post.  “According to Kanwa Asian Defense, the high-powered aerostats can monitor both airborne targets and mobile ground objects within a radius of 300km (186 miles).”

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