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Chinese Military Conducts Massive South China Sea Naval Drills, Fortifies Spratly Islands with New Jammers

April 13th - 2018

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has long made efforts to strengthen its position in the South China Sea by deploying advanced weapons systems to artificially constructed Islets alongside large naval deployments. With the United States and its Western allies increasing their military involvement in the region, the PLA’s efforts to fortify waters Beijing claims as its own have only escalated - with the deployment of advanced HQ-9 surface to air missile batteries and J-11 air superiority fighters to its island outposts in late 2017 alongside overflights of the sea by elite Su-35 long range fighters. Deployment of advanced fighter jets to outlying islets has provided the PLA with assets comparable to static and defensive aircraft carriers - a comparison U.S. analysts did not hesitate to make.

U.S. Navy Admiral Harry Harris stated regarding these deployments: “China's built up reclaimed islands in the South China Sea in the past year, with aircraft hangars, military barracks and extended runways, to the point where China has seven operational bases in the busy international shipping waterway.” These developments have inevitably been met with much apprehension among the Western powers.

In order to further strengthen its position in the South China Sea, amid calls within the United States to escalate its efforts in the region by cementing defence ties with and deploying personnel to Taiwan, China has deployed advanced jammers to its outposts across sea. This development was reported by the U.S. Defence Department on April 9th, and came amid large scale military exercise by the PLA Navy in the region. The naval drills were unprecedented in their scale and a significant show of force to the country’s potential adversaries - with 40 warships involved not only from the East Sea fleet usually responsible for defence of the South China Sea, but from a number of other naval detachments. This demonstrated Beijing’s resolve to protect its interests in the disputed region, and sent a strong signal to the Western bloc at a time of growing regional tensions.

Collin Koh, a research fellow in maritime security at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and expert on the South China Sea territorial dispute, stated regarding China’s recent military exercises that China was, in conducting military exercises on such a scale, attempting to send a message to the Western bloc as a whole. “It's not just to the U.S. but also in relation to more recent statements made by other interested powers — like those in Europe, for example,” the export stated.

The ability to jam radars and communications is an invaluable asset for the PLA in the potential conflict zone, and the deployment of jammers to the region comes shortly after Russia’s own armed forces deployed similar systems to their military facilities in Syria - another potential conflict zone where tensions with the Western bloc remain high. Ultimately Beijing is set to continue to strengthen its presence in the South China Sea so long as Western threats of intervention continue, and with the PLA Navy set to induct its second aircraft carrier and first next generation Type 055 destroyer by the end of 2018 the balance of power in the region is set to continue to shift towards Beijing’s favour.

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