The Escalation in the Spratlys
While the President of the United States was hosting a meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations or ASEAN in Palm Springs California, the Chinese deployed one of their advance SAM systems on Woody Island in the Paracels.
The HQ-9 Surface to Air missile system is one of the most advance SAM system in the world today. It is based on the Russian made S-300 SAM systems currently deployed in Syria. The HQ-9 batteries consisted of one Type 305B search radar, one tracking radar, one 200 kW Diesel generator truck, and eight Transporter erector launchers (TELs) each with 4 missiles, totaling 32 rounds ready to fire. This basic formation can be expanded into more capable larger formation, with the addition of the following equipment: one TWS-312 command post, one site survey vehicle based on Chinese Humvee, one main power grid converter, additional transporter / loader vehicles with each vehicle housing four missile TELs based on Tai’an TAS5380, one Type 120 low altitude search radar, one Type 305A AESA search radar for full anti ballistic missile capability, and a passive radar against stealth targets. HQ-9 systems are highly mobile, various units have completed conducting long distance maneuver and drills, including units in southern China participate in live firing exercises in northwestern China.
The image above is my creation using Google Earth Pro. As you can see, Woody Island is is to the East of Vietnam and Southeast of Hainan Island (China). The red circles are the “advertised” max range of the HQ-9 missiles (200 miles). The green circle is another 200 mile circle centering on Scarborough Shoal or Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc which is currently under Philippine control.
Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef are the 3 major land reclamation project that China is claiming based on their “9 Dash Line” and is part of the First Island Chain. If the Chinese stationed missile systems on Woody Island, in my opinion, they will station the same missile systems on those reefs once they are complete reclaiming it. The significance of Scarborough Shoal in all of this, it is the last piece of the puzzle. Once the Chinese get a hold of that shoal, they will have complete control of the whole South China Sea, thus securing the First Island Chain! I strongly believe that once those facilities are complete on those reefs, the airfields are operational (recently the Chinese landed some transport planes on one of the airfields) and the missile systems are in place, they will establish an Air Defense Identification Zone or ADIZ. No aircrafts nor ships can pass through that body of water WITHOUT authorization from the Chinese military or government.
Another thing to think about, the new agreement between the United States and Philippines called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA. Under this agreement, the Philippines will give the United States military access to Philippine bases or locations within the Philippines where they can store equipments and build facilities (not permanent). One of the places that the Philippine government is offering is a small Naval facility on the island of Palawan called Oyster Bay. Look at the image above and focus on Mischief Reef and it’s 200 mile circle. The southern part of Palawan is within the range of the HQ-9 and Oyster Bay is well within it.
It is a strategic importance for the Philippines to keep Scarborough Shoal due to the proximity to Manila, the capital. They need to defend it at all cost because it is the last piece the Chinese will need to project complete dominance in the South China Sea. Dangerous time ahead, cooperation with the United States and other Southeast Asian nations is a MUST. The Chinese just escalated the situation in the region and the Philippines will need all the help it can get!