What is China building at Triton Island? Help us crowdsource the analysis.

SeaLight and SkyFi invite anyone interested in solving an imagery puzzle to help us crowdsource the analysis of this question: What is China building at Triton Island? Find out how you can help!
Ray Powell | SEPTEMBER 24, 2023
What is China building at Triton Island? Help us crowdsource the analysis.

Ray Powell




Are you an imagery enthusiast? Have you dabbled in the world of open-source intelligence (OSINT)? Are you a South China Sea (SCS) watcher? Do you just love to solve puzzles?

If so, you're just who we're looking for! Help SeaLight and our imagery partners at SkyFi as we try to solve the mystery of what exactly China is building on Triton Island at the far west end of the Paracel group in the SCS.


Last month, The Drive created a minor sensation when it asserted that "China is Building a Runway on its Closest Island Outpost to Vietnam". 

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I was traveling in Singapore at the time, and was immediately taking calls from journalists interested in my opinions. Too eager to please, I took the calls and gave my half-baked hot takes, and then immediately regretted it. I started wondering if this was all happening too fast. 

I quickly did what I should have done first--I sent the article to two imagery analysts I trust. 

Of course there's nobody who's been looking at South China Sea commercial imagery as long and prolifically as Greg Poling at the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI). Greg not only helped lead an OSINT revolution with AMTI, he literally wrote the book on the SCS. Unsurprisingly he was already digging into the question by the time I contacted him, and he and his team were skeptical of the runway theory.

I also reached out to SeaLight's own analyst Bill Conroy, who eagerly dove into the question. Bill's analysis followed a different path and came to the same conclusion at almost the same time. 

So ... probably not a runway. But what exactly is China working on at Triton Island?

Enter SkyFi

I couldn't help but being intrigued by the question, so I reached out to another colleague, SkyFi CEO Luke Fischer. SkyFi is a company that seeks to make commercial imagery inexpensive and accessible for as many people as possible. In short, a company that also wants to "light up the gray zone"--a company after my own heart. 

Luke jumped in with both feet, and in short order Bill and I were brainstorming with Luke, his Operations VP Mike Panos, Head of Strategy Kate van Dam and Growth Marketing Manager Tom Babb. We decided to try an experiment--let's crowdsource our Triton Island analysis and tap into all the smart people we know are out there. 

The SkyFi team quickly pulled fresh Triton Island imagery started a Discord discussion. 

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Come join us!

Now it's your turn! Help us solve the mystery. Apply your expertise, help us speculate, ask your own questions, challenge our assumptions ... or just follow along. What is China building at Triton Island? Join our Discord discussion here.

Ray Powell

Ray is the Director of SeaLight and Project Lead for Project Myoushu at Stanford University's Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation. He's a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and was a 2021 Fellow at Stanford's Distinguished Careers Institute.

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