Chinese Power Projection Capabilities in the South China Sea

Since 2014, China has substantially expanded its ability to monitor and project power throughout the South China Sea via the construction of dual civilian-military bases at its outposts in the disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands. These include new radar and communications arrays, airstrips and hangars to accommodate combat aircraft, shelters likely meant to house missile platforms, and deployments of mobile surface-to-air and anti-ship cruise missile systems at Woody Island in the Paracels.


How these capabilities overlap is highlighted in the map above. For illustrative purposes, the ranges of known high frequency radar installations are depicted as being 300 kilometers, while those of smaller arrays are shown as 50 kilometers. Combat radii for fighter aircraft are shown based on China’s J-10 fighters, which have been deployed previously to Woody Island. Similarly, SAM and cruise missile ranges are based on the HQ-9 and YJ-62 systems that have been deployed to Woody Island. For the bases at Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs, fighter and missile ranges represent expected future deployments based on the hangars and shelters built to accommodate those assets.


To toggle each layer on and off, check and uncheck the corresponding box on the key in the upper-left of the graphic. For identifying information on the individual outposts and range rings, hover the cursor over them on the map.