TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A military expert said on Friday (March 12) that new satellite imagery appears to show a helicopter base that could threaten Taiwan is being built in China's Fujian Province.
Ho Cheng-hui (何澄輝) was cited by the Taiwan news website pourquoi.tw as saying the base had not been previously reported. He added it could be regarded as a product of Xi Jinping's (習近平) "desperate desire to resolve the Taiwan issue and expand the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) combat power."
Ho suggested the base was yet another challenge to the existing international order and is intended to disrupt the United States' first island chain defenses and "even directly challenge the U.S. military." He said the site could accommodate many military aircraft.
The satellite imagery is based on the work of a self-described open-source intelligence analyst on Twitter who goes by the handle @detresfa. On Thursday (March 11) he posted posted two satellite maps that he described as a "new heliport" in Zhangpu County, Fujian Province.
In a black and white photo on the left, an oblong apron and runway can be clearly seen, covering what he estimates is 1,700 meters, as well as an area for administrative buildings. A color, close-up photo on the right appears to show 10 helipads, a runway, and at least three helicopters already positioned on the tarmac. He estimates the runway is 600 meters in length and counts 27 hangars for aircraft.
Maps showing new base in Fujian's Zhangpu County. (Twitter, @detresfa images)
The open source intelligence analyst told Taiwan News that based on his observations, work on the facility started in July 2019, which consisted of clearing vegetation and earth moving. He suggested that given its strategic location, it could enhance both army and navy operations and allow for easier surveillance of the Taiwan Strait.
He added that it could also support UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) operations, though no drones had been observed. Judging by the fact the runway, apron, and helipads are already paved and painted, he believes the base is "nearing completion."
His satellite imagery sources include the European Space Agency's Sentinel-2, Airbus Earth observation, and Google Earth. On Google Earth there is what appears to be a large construction site.
Clearing of land has begun but airstrip not yet visible. (Google Earth image)
However, because satellite images on Google Earth are one to three years old, what is currently visible on the platform does not necessarily reflect the current situation on the ground. A free version of Sentinel-2 reveals the outline of the airstrip, apron, helipads, and administrative area.
The coordinates for the location are 24°02'41.5"N 117°50'55.0"E. This places it approximately 183 kilometers from Penghu and 386 kilometers from Taiwan's Dongsha Islands (Pratas Islands).
Outline of airbase visible from space. (Sentinel-2 image)
Military expert Ho Cheng-hui said that in addition to the base's helicopters, the estimated runway length would be sufficient for fighter aircraft to take off and patrol the waters and airspace off southwest Taiwan and the Dongsha Islands. "These all constitute a threat and provide pressure," Ho said.
Distance of new base to Penghu is 183 km. (Google Earth image)
Distance from new base to Dongsha Islands is 386 km. (Google Earth image)