Major Construction Underway At Three Of China’s Airbases Closest To Taiwan

China is upgrading three airbases located opposite Taiwan, boosting its airpower capability in an already tense region that is flush with air combat capabilities. Construction of the new infrastructure began in early 2020 and continued uninterrupted through the pandemic, underlining its priority.

The work at the Chinese air force’s bases at Longtian, Huian, and Zhangzhou, all of which lie between 100 and 200 miles from Taiwan, give it an enhanced forward presence near the Taiwan Strait. This, when coupled with the flurry of flights through Taiwan’s ADIZ, all appear to be in line with Beijing’s evolving aggressive posture towards the island nation.

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One development that could sustain better operations and replenishment while catering to a variety of missions is the likely construction of munition bunkers at Longtian Airbase. Minor expansions can also be observed at both ends of the runway, along with the development of new aprons with visible markings.

Four hardened aircraft structures are seen taking shape at one end of this airbase, becoming the only protective aviation infrastructure on site. Protective shelters for aircraft have multiple benefits beyond the obvious defense attributes. With advances in satellite imagery, these shelters would also help keep aircraft inventory and their general readiness away from prying eyes. In addition, the construction of administrative buildings and possible barracks points to a rise in personnel. 

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At nearby Huian Airbase, similar patterns can be seen, with the construction of three storage bunkers, likely for munitions, minor runway extensions, and expansions of aprons underway. 

The upgraded aprons at both bases could suggest a future increase in aircraft deployments. At the very least, they would be able to support air combat capabilities surging into the area. Interestingly, the site is also receiving four hardened aircraft shelters, which will be in addition to the existing 24 sunshade-type shelters already functional at the base. The investment in developing these bomb-proof shelters could also be based on a threat assessment of a Taiwanese counterattack. They could be especially useful for supporting alert operations, as well.

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Not far away, at Zhangzhou airbase, there is observable construction of a new surface-to-air missile defense site, the third one for the same location. These dedicated surface-to-air missile defense sites at the three airbases have also been actively rotating equipment and training.

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These developments are in addition to other air combat-related construction projects along the Strait, in particular, the construction of a massive heliport that would be critical for all types of operations—from anti-submarine warfare to airborne assaults—during a major conflict with Taiwan.

When analyzed, China’s rapid upgrades suggest steps are being taken toward improving survivability and concealment of assets and operations, as well as expanding the capacity for surge operations. 

There have been no visible changes in the deployment of aircraft to these bases as of now, but, strategically, these improved facilities will allow for more operations aimed at intimidating Taipei or could be used in support of actual amphibious and airborne assault operations.

@detresfa_ is an independent open-source intelligence analyst who has worked as a consultant to The Intel Lab, an independent intelligence analysis group who is reachable at [email protected]

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