May 16, 2012:
Taiwan has revealed that it has organized a special infantry unit that can arrive in the Spratly Islands within four hours, if reinforcements are needed. The troops would be carried by one or more C-130 transports, escorted by F-16s. This could lead to an air battle as China's new fighter force (Russian Su-27/30 clones) can reach that far.
Several nations claim all or part of the Spratlys. These are a group of some 100 islets, atolls, and reefs that total only about 5 square kilometers of land but sprawl across some 410,000 square kilometers of the South China Sea. Set amid some of the world's most productive fishing grounds, the islands are believed to have enormous oil and gas reserves. Several nations have overlapping claims there. About 45 of the islands are currently occupied by small numbers of military personnel. China claims them all but occupies only eight. Vietnam has occupied or marked 25, the Philippines 8, Malaysia 6, and Taiwan one.
Taiwan has built a 1,150 meter long air strip on Taiping Island, one of the largest of the Spratlys, at about 120 acres (489,600 sq. meters). It has been in Taiwanese hands since the mid-1950s, and has largely been used as a way station for fishermen. But now the Taiwanese maintain a military garrison there, which recently received longer ranged (6,100 meters) mortars. Taiping is also claimed by the Vietnamese, who call it Thai Binh. Protests have been lodged by Vietnam, which controls the largest group of islands. China and the Philippines also have claims. The Vietnamese refurbished an old South Vietnamese airstrip on Big Spratly Island and Vietnamese fishing boats regularly operate near Taiping island, taunting the Taiwanese garrison there.