'This is militarization': We finally know what China's mysterious hexagonal structures in the South China Sea are for

CSIS/AMTI/DigitalGlobe/Amanda Macias/Business InsiderSatellite imagery of hexagonal structures on Subi, Fiery, and Mischief reefs taken in November 2016.

WASHINGTON, DC — The mysterious hexagonal facilities the Chinese began installing on man-made islands in the South China Sea appear to be
anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), a unit of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In August, AMTI published satellite imagery of several unidentified hexagonal structures on Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief reefs.

The formations are always oriented toward the sea and started to appear in May, according to experts at AMTI.

“More recent satellite imagery suggests that these hexagonal structures are point defence systems that are designed to defend the land features and the assets on them from an attack,” Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia and the director of the China Power Project at CSIS, told Business Insider.

What’s more, Glaser notes that China is building these structures on all seven of the islets and reefs it occupies in the Spratly Islands.

Skip to the satellite images of the structures »

On Wednesday, as first reported by Reuters, AMTI director Greg Poling said he was “confident” in the identification of these structures.

“This is the first time that we’re confident in saying they are anti-aircraft and CIWS (close-in weapons systems) emplacements. We did not know that they had systems this big and this advanced there,” Poling told Reuters.

“This is militarization. The Chinese can argue that it’s only for defensive purposes, but if you are building giant anti-aircraft gun and CIWS emplacements, it means that you are prepping for a future conflict.”

Glaser echoed Poling, telling Business Insider, “although these systems are intended for self-defence, it is hard to argue that they are consistent with Xi Jinping’s pledge to not militarize the islands.”

It has been a little over five months since the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidated Beijing’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea. All the while, Beijing has maintained the ruling has no bearing and continues to build in the region.

Since 2013, China has created more than 3,200 acres of new land on its outposts in the Spratly Islands.

All photos republished with permission from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Here's the location of the hexagonal structures on Subi Reef:

China began working on Subi Reef in July 2014 and has since reclaimed 976 acres. Currently, Subi Reef remains China's northernmost outpost in the Spratly Island chain.

Read more about Subi Reef »

A closer look at the structures:

For comparison, here's what one of the hexagonal structures looked like in July:

Here's the location of the hexagonal structures on Fiery Cross Reef:

Meanwhile on Fiery Cross Reef, China has reclaimed approximately 677 acres and it constructed a 9,800-foot runway, a dredged harbour that is large enough to receive tankers and major surface combat ships, and a possible radar tower.

Read more about Fiery Cross Reef »

A closer shot:

And here's what one structure on Fiery Cross looked like in June:

The following satellite imagery shows the location of the hexagonal structures on Mischief Reef:

Perhaps the most significant portion of the Permanent Court of Arbitration's July 12 500-page unanimous ruling on the South China Sea is the decision on Mischief Reef. According to the ruling, the reef and everything on it legally belongs to the Philippines.

This is in spite of China's reclamation of approximately 1,379 acres of land and the construction of a 9,800-foot runway, radar nests, and what some experts have speculated is a soon-to-be naval base.

'The court ruled China's initial occupation of Mischief Reef and its construction of facilities there illegal, so every day that China continues to make use of those facilities it is violating international law,' Poling told Business Insider in a previous interview.

Read more about Mischief Reef »

And here's what one of the hexagonal structures looked like in July:

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