China's military base in Djibouti | Screengrab: CCTV
It is called a ‘logistics base’ but the 200-acre facility built by China can accommodate a brigade and has unprecedented security arrangements
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China has opened its first overseas base at Djibouti in the strategically located Horn of Africa. China began negotiations with Djibouti in early 2015 that culminated into a 50-year lease for what is being termed as a logistical support base.
The work on the 200-acre facility started in March 2016, along with the
construction of Doraleh Multipurpose Port by China State Construction
Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) and is still continuing at a very fast pace.
The Chinese have always claimed that Djibouti is simply a logistics base
that will resupply naval vessels taking part in peacekeeping and
humanitarian missions until recently when the official voice Xinhua stated
that the base will also be conducive for overseas tasks, including military
cooperation, joint exercises, evacuating and protecting overseas Chinese and
emergency rescue, as well as for jointly maintaining security of international
Satellite images analysed by ThePrint, however, indicate that a massive
fortress is being constructed that can easily accommodate over a brigade
strength force, has an unprecedented four-layered security ring and can
handle a dozen helicopters.
The new facility caters to all type of replenishment that seems to be working on automated systems. The strategically located base would allow China to monitor all shipping movements through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
While it would enable China to exert influence in the African continent, the facility could be the model for similar bases that are being planned at Gwadar or Karachi in the future.
The fortress that is still under construction has at least 10 storage barracks, ammunition point, storage, office complex and a heliport. The base also has a huge underground airconditioning plant, which may possibly include a water filtration (reverse osmosis) and ice-making plants.
The large ‘8’ shaped five-storey building possibly provides accommodation
for troops. The office complex is likely to have a hospital and a gymnasium.
Access control and security
There are two entrances to the facility — the one towards the east connects to the main road. A side entrance caters to traffic from the container terminal.
Four layers of security fences have been constructed. The inner two and
outermost are solid fences. Two roads have been constructed for patrolling
in between the fences.
The width of the innermost hollow fence is an unimaginable 9 m all along and at
main entrance it is 11 m. The height of inner two fences is 8-10 m. Lighting
is provided on second fence at regular intervals. Guard posts have been constructed along the innermost fence.
The access control at the main gate passes through two guard rooms comprising automated vehicle and personnel check systems.
Cold storage and AC plant
There are 10 barracks of 15 m x 45 m size with AC exhaust fans on both sides,
suggesting these are refrigerated cold storages. These cold storages are connected with huge 9 m wide pipelines on both sides, underground, connecting these buildings with the underground complex.
The heliport has seven hangars to park choppers, along with a large hangar possibly for repair and maintenance. The other buildings would have motor transport garages and repair facilities.
There is a runway of 400 m length in the complex. There is also an administrative building with air traffic control (ATC) on top of it. It could allow a view of deployment of about 12 Z-10 or Z-19 attack helicopters or a mix with Z-8 or Z-9.
A hardened underground ammunition point has been created with modern,
possibly automated entry gates. A small loading/unloading platform is also
observed near the entrance. The entire area is further wire-fenced for
additional security. It has three main storages with a shelter for motor transport.
Large fuel tank
A large (60m x 70m) semi-underground storage tank for petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL) has been constructed near the underground complex. It is connected to two outlet points.
There is a new six-cabled electricity line running from the electric grid
to the facility. There are two entrances for construction staff and vehicles
to move within the complex. The west side of the facility that is still not
constructed may have satellite communications facilities, very low frequency
(VLF) and /or over the horizon (OTH) radar and a direct sea access in
Col Vinayak Bhat (retd) is a Military Intelligence veteran of the Indian Army with vast experience of satellite imagery analysis. He has worked as a Chinese interpreter and is a specialist on PLA and Pakistan’s Armed Forces. Twitter: @rajfortyseven