TEL AVIV, Israel — Imagery captured Monday from an ImageSat International (ISI) Eros B satellite indicates Chinese preparations for new land-based missile installations on an increasingly strategic island base in the South China Sea.

The high-resolution imagery, shown here for the first time, reveals recent changes in the layout of the People’s Liberation Army’s Yulin Naval Base at the tip of Hainan Island in the disputed South China Sea. In less than two months, the PLA deployed multiple missile launchers on the western side of the base, deployments that  ISI imagery analyst Amit Gur has concluded are anti-ship missiles.

"The direction in which the launchers are facing leads us to believe these are shore-to-ship missiles," Gur told Defense News.

Yulin Naval base - suspected anti-ship missile deployment

Photo Credit: ImageSat International

He said that similar systems had shown up in satellite data about two years ago, but had been removed in recent months to accommodate infrastructure upgrades at the site. ISI's imagery from March 15 shows an empty plateau, but by May 8 the firm’s Eros B captured a clear image of newly paved infrastructure and multiple launch sites.

"They must have concluded renovation work, as the systems are clearly visible," Gur said. "We just don’t know if they are new systems, or a [redeployment] of the ones that were stored during the renovation."

Perhaps even more interesting, according to ISI, is progress taking place on Yulin’s eastern side. "We’re seeing the building of infrastructure that wasn’t there before and what looks like preparations for shore-to-ship missiles, just like on the western side," company spokesman Gil Or said.

Photo Credit: ImageSat International

Photo Credit: ImageSat International

Gur noted that expansion of the Yulin base fortifies Beijing’s strategic triangle of forward bases with which to quickly project its power well beyond neighboring Vietnam and the Philippines.

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Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.

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