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​A satellite image of ongoing Chinese construction of an airstrip and support facilities on Firey Cross Reef on Sept. 3, 2015. CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe photo.

​China has built anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems on seven artificial islands it built in the South China Sea, a major increase in tensions in the region. The Center for Strategic and International Studies first announced the findings through a Reuters report on Wednesday. After the Chinese government had said repeatedly that they were not going to militarize the islands, officials on Thursday said the installation of the military systems were "legitimate and normal" to defend its territory, Reuters reported. The new weapons systems come after China has already built airstrips on three of the islands. The think tank found, through satellite images, that China installed anti-aircraft guns and close-in weapons systems to protect against cruise missiles, along with radar targeting systems.

Check out our photo essay of China’s activities in the South China Sea from the October issue of Air Force Magazine.