Chinese Fighter Jets Seen on Contested South China Sea Island

MILCOM — The Chinese military has deployed new fighter jets to a contested island in the South China Sea and bolstered their advanced surface-to-air missile system on the island, new satellite imagery provided exclusively to Fox News shows. The move is expected to escalate tensions in the region days before Defense Secretary Ash Carter visits the Philippines, where China’s recent provocative actions in the region are expected to be a point of discussion.

Satellite imagery from ImageSat International (ISI) taken on April 7 and authenticated by U.S. defense officials Tuesday show two Chinese Shenyang J-11 fighter jets on Woody Island. The Chinese J-11s, known as “Flankers” by the Pentagon first entered service in 1998. They are a modified version of the Russian Sukhoi Su-27, comparable to a U.S. Air Force F-15 or Navy F/A-18 Hornet.

Woody Island is the largest island in the Paracel chain of islands in the South China Sea. The Chinese installed a runway there in the early 1990s. It lies 250 miles southeast of a major Chinese submarine base on Hainan Island. China has claimed Woody Island since the 1950s, but it is also contested by Taiwan and Vietnam.

The concern among senior officials in Washington is that China will eventually control the South China Sea if its militarization continues unchecked. An estimated $5 trillion in cargo and natural resources pass through these coveted sea lanes each year.

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