Latest satellite images have revealed vast clusters of antennas appearing across the South China Sea, reinforcing the fear that Beijing is doing everything in its power to assert dominance over the strategic international waterway.
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Chinese military has been making giant strides in ramping up its resources for intelligence-gathering, electronic warfare, and communications at a facility near Mumian on Hainan Island. This newly set up facility provides China with an enhanced capability to track, defend, or launch offensive campaigns against foreign military forces that operate in the region.
The CSIS report notes that the Yulin Naval Base is situated around 135 kilometers from the new facility. The Yulin base is known to be a prime facility used to house China’s fleet of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines apart from a number of major Chinese surface vessels such as the Shandong. There are also reports of the PLA Navy’s Type 075 amphibious assault ships being docked here.
The Mumian base is believed to be aimed at establishing a clear advantage over foreign military forces by gaining control over the electronic spectrum over the South China Sea and adjoining areas.
The report points out that the Mumian facility fits the narrative of being part of a strategic network of military installations that would allow the PLA to have a dominating position over the South China Sea. Apart from housing satellite tracking and communication (SATCOM) platforms, the facility seems to be focused on collecting intelligence through intercepting and analyzing communication from foreign satellites, weapons, and electronic systems.
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As per information gathered from satellite images, the Mumian facility has been used for intercepting signals and associated activities since at least 2018. The latest images from Nov. 21, 2021, revealed that a number of new assets have been constructed on the site. This includes an array of four large dish antennas for SATCOM and tracking. There are also at least four tall tower antennas designed for electronic warfare or communications.
Per satellite images from Aug. 30, 2020 roads and buildings have been constructed in the region. There are also indications of the site being used as a training ground for PLA forces specialized in the collection and analysis of SIGNIT as well as electronic warfare.
Last year, a Chinese news portal reported that a U.S. combat aircraft had “lost control” during its flight over the South China Sea. Another similar incident occurred in 2018 when the crew of a US Navy EA-18G Growler aircraft reported their equipment being jammed.
According to a report from the Brookings Institution, “The war of the future will not only be about explosions, but will also be about disabling the systems that make armies run… We could see effects as stodgy as making a tank impossible to start up, or sophisticated as retargeting a missile midair.”
The Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), a Washington-based think tank, warns that China has become “increasingly bold” following the setting up of its fortresses in the Spratly Islands. The location serves as a launching pad for China to deploy its coast guard, fishing militia, and navy to the Southern South China Sea.
The Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam have accused Beijing of using its militia muscle to assert its claim over the South China Sea on several occasions. The newly ramped up facility in Mumian is yet another step in reinforcing China’s campaign for control over these waterways.