Vietnam Ups the Military Ante at the Worst Possible Time for China

By Published on August 10, 2016

In what could be one of its most forceful and assertive moves in decades, Vietnam reportedly installed rocket launchers at outposts in the Spratly Islands, located in the South China Sea.

Intelligence data indicates that Hanoi has been moving rocket launchers to five different positions in the Spratlys over the past few months and will put them into operation within the next two or three days, reports Reuters.

The Vietnamese foreign ministry denies deploying rocket launchers to the South China Sea; however, Vietnam maintains it has the right to to defensive deployments if it feels inclined to do so. “It is within our legitimate right to self-defense to move any of our weapons to any area at any time within our sovereign territory,” explained Deputy Defense Minister Senior Lieutenant-General Nguyen Chi Vinh in June.

Military analysts suspect that the rocket launchers are a part of the advanced EXTended Range Artillery (EXTRA) system Vietnam received from Israel recently. EXTRA rounds are often equipped with warheads packed with powerful explosives and are capable of being used to engage multiple targets simultaneously. Furthermore, these rounds are highly accurate up to 150 kilometers (93 miles). The rocket launchers are very mobile and require a very limited operational space, making them ideal for island combat and countering amphibious landings.

Vietnam deploying rocket launchers to the Spratlys arguably complicates matters for China, which claims the Spratlys as sovereign territory, say military insiders.

Yesterday, images showing the construction of reinforced military aircraft hangars on Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef, and Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands surfaced. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, these hangars could be used to store a significant number of fighter jets, as well as a decent amount of large aircraft, such as tankers, cargo planes and bombers.

A Department of State official commented on the hangars, saying, “This type of potentially dual use construction activity has raised tensions in the region. It also calls into question China’s willingness to abide by President Xi’s statement last September that China does not intend to militarize its outposts in the Spratlys. Such actions undermine regional confidence that China is willing to resolve contested matters in a non-coercive manner.”

China can still theoretically argue that the hangars are for civilian purposes, since no military aircraft are yet deployed, but if Vietnam installs rocket launchers in the Spratlys, it may force China to escalate.

Talking about the deployment of Vietnamese rockets in the Spratlys, former naval intelligence analyst for the British Ministry of Defense (MOD) Trevor Hollingsbee said, “It introduces a potential vulnerability where there was none before – it is a sudden new complication in an area that China was dominating.”


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