US officials believe that a series of structures nearing completion on islands China has built in the South China Sea are designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles, according to Reuters. The structures are being built on the Subi, Mischief, and Fiery Cross reefs in the Spratly Islands, an area where maritime rights are fiercely contested among China and neighboring nations. If the officials are correct, the new construction would mark an escalation of Chinese efforts to militarize the artificial islands. While Beijing has long denied that it has military intentions in the area, the Center for Strategic and International Studies announced in December that China had built anti-aircraft and anti-missile defenses there. During his Jan. 17 Senate confirmation hearing, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said China had committed “illegal actions” in the South China Sea and that the US needed to “send China a clear signal.”
Check out our photo essay of China’s activities in the South China Sea from the October 2016 issue of Air Force Magazine.