In China’s push for regional dominance, it is apparently not content with transforming reefs in the South Sea into air strips. China is now reportedly broadening its naval basing by building massive new floating island bases that will likely be used by the military, according to a report from Popular Science.
According to the report, Jidong Development Group (JDG) and Hainan Hai Industrial Company have recently proposed to build a floating sea base for “multipurpose usage” such as tourism, shipping, power generation, and offshore fossil fuel extraction. The floating sea base would be based in the South China Sea, for “logistical support activities”.
During the April 2015 press conference of the Jidong Development Group included an officer from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the report said, which suggests that the PLA could have dual use interests in the technology.
The massive floating island bases will be able to accommodate both port terminal facilities, fuel bunkerage, and airstrips, the report said.
JDG’s floating island designs are modular, being assembled from multiple semi-submersible hull sections. They would come in three sizes. The smaller island is 300 meters long and 90 meters wide, the medium sized island is 120 meters wide and 600 meters lond, while the larger island is 900 meters long and 120 meters wide. Assuming a hull draft of around 16 meters, full displacement of the islands could likely be around 400,000 and 1.5 million tons, respectively.
The design though would allow the islands to scale much larger, by attaching more semi-submersible hull modules, just like Lego bricks. Despite the large size of the individual modules, the floating islands could be easily assembled in deep offshore waters by linking together modules transported by semi-submersible heavy lift ships from landbased shipyards.
The giant bases will be able to house battalions of marines and squadrons of attack aircraft, and unlike fixed island bases, they will be able to be redeployed away from enemy missiles, the report said.
The massive islands will be able to travel at speeds of up to 18 kilometers an hour and could serve as an offshore wind farm, an offshore oil rig, or as a rapidly deployable offshore port, JDG General Manager Wang Yandong said.
However the presence of a PLA officer at the JDG press conference raises interesting questions about future military interests in the JDG’s floating islands, the report said.
For China, a floating island airbase, besides obvious deployments to disputed islands, could be a new kind of tool for global military projection, notably addressing one of China’s strategic weaknesses compared to the US, its dearth of foreign military bases. In the near future, China could stage anti-piracy missions and humanitarian relief from well stocked floating islands. More forceful uses of floating islands could be temporary or permanent deployments off the waters of potential battlefields.