Thursday, October 8, 2009

Taiwan Improves Missile Defenses

Defense News


Taiwan Improves Missile Defenses

By Wendell Minnick

TAIPEI — Taiwan continues to improve its missile defenses by upgrading Patriot interceptors, preparing to activate an early-warning radar, and mulling a second early­warning site.

Delayed by mudslides on Leshan Mountain on the west coast in central Taiwan, the $800 million Surveillance Radar Program (SRP) is to go online shortly. The Raytheon­built facility is designed to warn of an initial missile and air strike from China.

“It’s powerful due to size and aperture,” said a defense industry source. “But what really makes it powerful is the software that can handle a huge amount of tracks” — 
 some 1,000 simultaneously.

Still, the system might not be around long after giving its first warning.

“It’s not realistic to assume the radar would survive past an initial missile strike,” which would likely target the facility, the source said. 

Even if Taiwan had 1,000 PAC­3 fire units, the Chinese could still overwhelm the defense with waves of ballistic missiles. Still, Taiwanese and U.S. officials are talking about building a second SRP in Pingtung County in southern Taiwan.

Several industry sources said the United States wants to use the SRP to observe Chinese air power.

“It could add some in terms of covering air activity further inside China, above and beyond getting Taiwan’s current air picture,” one source said, by tracking satellites and the anti-ship ballistic missiles under development in China.

But ”the benefits of getting that feed for peacetime monitoring of the air environment does not seem worth the costs,” the source said.

Among other things, the system has line-of-sight limitations.

“The further the range, the higher in altitude those aircraft would have to be. For example, to cover air activity out of Wuhu, an aircraft would need to be pretty high to pick it up due to the curvature of the Earth.”

On Sept. 1, the U.S. government awarded Raytheon a $27 million technical assistance contract to help upgrade Taiwan’s Patriot PAC­2 air defense system.

The money is for “in-country support as a result of the ahead-of­schedule completion of Configuration-3 upgrades,” which is a modification to a technical assistance contract, said a Raytheon press release.

“Raytheon will provide field engi­neers to refurbish Taiwan’s Patriot equipment and will extend the services of current advisors assisting with training, operational planning and sustainment of Patriot systems.”

The contract is part of a $939 million upgrade released in late 2007 for the PAC-2s. Taiwan acquired three PAC-2 fire units and 200 missiles in 1997 for $1.3 billion. All three are deployed around the capital city of Taipei.

In late 2008, the U.S. also approved a $3.1 billion deal for six PAC-3 fire units and 330 missiles.

Taiwan sought Patriots and advanced radar systems after the 1996 Taiwan Strait missile crisis, when China had 150 missiles aimed at the self-governing island. Since then, China has built an arsenal of 1,300 Dong Feng 11/15 short-range ballistic missiles.