China could place upto 24 fighter aircraft in hangers it is building in the disputed Spratly Islands, which the Philippines' claims is a part of its exclusive economic zone.
Beijing has built three operational runways in the disputed Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefsislands which it claims is for civilian use but in reality, military fighter and transport planes regularly operate to the islands, a report in Philstar.com said.
Despite China's claim that it is not militarizing the disputed South China Sea, rapid construction of hangars in the Spratly Islands indicate that they are ready to deploy military aircraft to these outposts.
Chinese H-6K bombers and Su-30 fighters have completed a patrol of airspace above the Nansha and Huangyan islands in the South China Sea, said a Chinese military spokesperson Saturday adding that the manoeuvers included aerial refuelling.
Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) reported that each of the three islets will soon have hangars that can accommodate 24 fighter jets plus three to four larger planes.
The smallest of the hangars can accommodate any fighter jet of the People's Liberation Army Air Force while a medium hangar can provide space for a bomber, a refueling tanker, a transport aircraft and an Airborne Warning and Control System plane.
"The largest of the hangars can accommodate the largest planes in the PLAAF fleet—the Y-20 and Il-76 transport planes, Il-78 refueling tanker, and KJ-2000 surveillance aircraft," the AMTI report read.
China has ordered 24 Russian-built Su-34 fighter-bombers, the most advanced aircraft in Russia’s fleet. Analysts opine the Su-34 aircraft would dominate the skies in the South China Sea as countries such as Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia which are opposed to China claiming the whole of the South China Sea, have poorly equipped air forces.