China’s military recently deployed electronic warning and surveillance aircraft and helicopters on two disputed islands in the South China Sea in what analysts say is a sign that the People’s Liberation Army has begun routine air operations from the bases.
Satellite images obtained by The Washington Times show deployments in May and June of PLA KJ-500 airborne warning and control aircraft to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands. Other satellite photos showed the stationing of a Y-9 transport aircraft and Z-8 helicopter to Subi Reef in June and this month.
Last year, KQ-200 anti-submarine warfare aircraft were deployed on a third island base on Fiery Cross Reef.
In the past, military aircraft made occasional stops at bases built since 2013 as part of a major campaign by the Chinese military to expand power and protect its broad claims to sovereignty over the strategic waterway.