Taiwan’s BMD Coming Online
BY WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — New Taiwanese ballistic missile defense (BMD) capabilities are slowly coming online as China continues to build up its ballistic and cruise missile threat against the island.
Systems and equipment either entering service or in the pipeline include new early warning radar, an air defense command, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) antimissile systems and an upgrade of older PAC-2 Plus systems to PAC-3 standards.
Taiwan redoubled its BMD efforts after the 1995-96 Taiwan Strait missile crisis, in which China launched 10 Dong Feng-15 (M-9) short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) into the waters around the island. At that time, China had about 350 SRBMs deployed against Taiwan. That number has grown to 1,300, along with an unknown number of cruise missiles.
“China continues to field very large numbers of conventionally armed SRBMs opposite Taiwan and is developing a number of new mobile conventionally armed mediumrange systems,” says the Pentagon’s February “Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report.”
Citing China’s development of ballistic missiles, including anti-ship missiles, the report notes a growing imbalance of power across the Taiwan Strait. This “concerns the United States,” the report says.
Taiwan first took an interest in the Raytheon Patriot anti-missile interceptor after the first Gulf War, ordering four PAC-2 fire units and 200 missiles in 1992. These are currently deployed around Taipei.
Despite expectations that Taiwan would procure more PAC-2s, debate in political circles in Taipei held up further procurements until 2007 when the U.S. released a $939 million upgrade of the PAC-2 systems to PAC-3 configuration.
Since 2008, the U.S. government has released $5.91 billion in two deals for 444 PAC-3 missiles, seven AN/MPQ-65 radar sets, 282 Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio Systems and 50 Multifunctional Information Distribution Systems.
Taiwan has also developed the Tien Kung (Sky Bow) series of antimissile defense systems. Similar to the Patriot system, Tien Kungs are deployed throughout Taiwan and outer islands of Penghu and Tungyin.
In 2004, the U.S. released an $800 million long-range ultra-high-frequency early warning radar (EWR) program to Taiwan. The Surveillance Radar Program was scheduled to go online in 2009, but mudslides have delayed construction efforts. The site is at Leshan Mountain (Happy Mountain) in west central Taiwan and will be able to see deep into China.
A former U.S. defense official said the facility would go online by the end of 2011.
“It is the best radar in the world in terms of range and capabilities,” he said. “It’s powerful due to size and aperture. But what really makes it powerful is the software that can handle a huge amount of tracks. It can handle not only air breathing and ballistic missile targets, but can also conduct surveillance on sea tracks and satellites.” However, the system is not expected to survive long in a war.
“In a conflict situation, especially a full-scale conflict, the radar has one mission — early warning of initial missile and air strikes,” he said. “Once it does its job, it’s not realistic to assume the radar would survive past initial missile strikes.”
Once the initial warning is sounded by the EWR, the new Anyu-4 air defense system would kick into action. Anyu-4 replaced four older air defense control and reporting centers with new Regional Operations Control Centers (ROCC).
In 2001, the U.S. released the sale of ROCCs and mobile and fixed radar systems for an undisclosed amount. Additional items, including the Program Automated Air Defense System, were released in 2005. The ROCCs will select whether PAC-3, Tien Kung or I-Hawk missiles should intercept the threat.
No START for China
Since 2008, there has been debate in Beijing over the possibility of reducing the number of SRBMs aimed at the island to improve political relations and hobble continued U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Though there have been murmurings of a missile reduction, there has been no movement on the issue from China.
“Withdraw of some short-range missiles is not meaningful militarily,” said Joseph Wu, a former director of Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Washington. “They are mobile and can be redeployed quickly.”
Even if China reduced the number of missiles, it would have to renounce the use of force and allow Taiwan to supervise the dismantling of the missiles, Wu said. There would also be some opposition in Taiwan to the dismantling of missiles. Taiwan, said Wu, is “not prepared” to lose the “justification to buy arms from the United States.”