Written by Van Pham & associates
In early December 2020, the People’s Liberation Army Navy conducted a live-fire exercise over the South China Sea. The Harbin Z-9 helicopter equipped with anti-ship missiles took off from an airbase on southern tip of Hainan and conducted a live-fire at a simulated target. In mid-December 2020, a report by H.I Sutton and detresfa showed that the strategic Yulin naval base was being expanded large enough for China’s new Type-003 super carrier to station full time. China is currently building an aircraft carrier fleet, and the largest to date, Type-003, is currently built in Shanghai. The Type-003 will be significantly larger than the first two aircraft carriers and is expected to have an electromagnetic aircraft launch system that allows the launch of fighters and unmanned air vehicles (UAVs).
Following the story, the latest 2021 satellite images from Google Earth given by South China Sea News and its partner show that the expansion of the strategically important base in the South China Sea is more than just a few hangars and expanded runway but also new permanent ammunition storage areas. As attack helicopters and UAVs have been observed at the airbase, this new piece of evidence allows one to suggest that air operations projecting from this base will not only be limited to reconnaissance operations but may as well include combat missions from here to the South China Sea using helicopters and UAVs.
The new air base facilities along with the expansion of the naval base suggest Yulin in the future would be capable of supporting both naval and air combat missions, contributing to strengthening and projection of Chinese conventional military power in a strategic maritime trade route as well as creating an advantage for China in attempt to establish de facto control over the South China Sea.
Van Pham is a member of the South China Sea Chronicle Initiative. The authors would like to thank a military analyst for their valuable help and suggestions.
The South China Sea Chronicle Initiative is a non-profit, independent project initiated by Vietnamese-origin researchers to compile facts and systematic studies about the South China Sea disputes. Our goal in chronicling events in the South China Sea, both in the past and at present, is to better understand the origins of and hence to promote a peaceful solution to the disputes in the interest of peace, stability and development in the region and the world.