Satellite imagery from May 12 shows the deployment of several new weapons systems to China’s base on Woody Island in the Paracels. These new military platforms, under blue and red covers in the imagery, have been placed down the beach from the HQ-9 surface-to-air missile systems, under brown covers, that China originally deployed to the island in early 2016.
Since they are covered, it is difficult to definitively identify the new platforms, but they likely include truck-mounted surface-to-air or anti-ship cruise missiles and accompanying radars. The platforms were likely placed on the island as part of military drills that took place on May 9, though other satellite imagery published by Fox News has shown that they were still present as of May 20. This suggests that the platforms could be there to stay, just as the HQ-9s that were originally sent to Woody as part of an exercise have remained for more than two years.
Looking more closely, it appears that there are 20 new vehicles in total on the island’s northern beach. Those under the red covers are wired together in two distinct groups. The group farthest west appears to consist of two larger vehicles (perhaps anti-air or anti-ship missiles systems on transporter erector launchers (TELs), though they seem to be shorter than the HQ-9s to the east), two smaller vehicles (perhaps a different missile system), and a large radar truck. The group in the middle consists of another radar truck and two of the smaller vehicles. The blue covers likely consist of various support vehicles.
Aside from these new deployments on the north shore of the island, China has also deployed what appears to be two trucks and four covered vehicles on the east side of Woody Island. These are smaller than the platforms under the red covers on the north, and they don’t appear to be wired together in any way. They are roughly the same size as the jamming platforms China deployed to Mischief Reef in the Spratlys earlier this year, but it is difficult to know for sure what is under the tarps.
In addition to these new platforms, China also deployed J-11 combat aircraft to the island as part of its military exercises. One J-11 is parked near the end of the island’s runway in the May 12 photo while more are likely inside of the hangars built along the airstrip. J-11s have been deployed to Woody Island on several occasions in the past, including as recently as October 2017.
Woody Island is the military and administrative hub of China’s activities the Paracel Islands, and military upgrades and deployments there often serve as a blueprint for future developments at China’s bases in the Spratly Islands to the south.