Country Risk

China completes runway on Fiery Cross Reef

25 September 2015
Airbus Defence and Space imagery dated 20 September 2015 shows ongoing development of the artificial island created at Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea. The runway is complete with markings installed, including helipads, suggesting a potential for use in the near future. (© CNES 2015, Distribution Airbus DS / 2015 IHS)

Key Points

  • China has completed the runway on Fiery Cross Reef, its largest base in the Spratly Islands, Airbus Defence and Space satellite imagery dated 20 September has shown
  • The completion of the runway could enable China to accelerate construction on the new island and to start patrols over the disputed islands

China has completed the runway on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea and is moving closer to making it operational.

Airbus Defence and Space imagery taken on 20 September shows helipads and bearings - of 050° at one end and 230° the other - painted on the 3,125 m-long runway on the newly created island.

The completion of the runway, which previous imagery suggests only occurred in recent weeks, will enable China to accelerate construction of infrastructure and potentially start air patrols over the Spratly Islands, which are claimed and occupied by a number of countries.

Chinese construction workers continue to build multiple structures on the island, complete the seawall in the harbour, and create concrete road networks. They also appear to have dumped topsoil along the side of the runway; this may be the first attempts to grow food on the island or just be the start of landscaping designed to prevent erosion.

Fiery Cross Reef is the most extensive new landmass built by China in the Spratly Islands and is believed to be the future hub for its operations in the southern reaches of the South China Sea. As such, creation of the island's underlying structure has taken longer than more modest outposts in the area.

Satellite imagery of other Chinese construction sites in the Spratlys suggest that the smaller islands at Hughes, McKennan, Johnson South, Cuateron, and Gaven reefs have been completed and communication and military hardware installed, but that dredging continues at Subi and Mischief Reefs.

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