Taiwan Tests Missiles As Hu Visits U.S.
By WENDELL MINNICK
JIUPENG, Taiwan - Taiwan military officials are denying that a series of missile tests it conducted is a political move connected to Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington.
Taiwan test-fired missiles of 11 different types during an exercise on Jan. 18 at the Jiupeng Missile Test Range in Pingtung County on Taiwan's southeast coast. The tests coincided with Hu's visit to Washington to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama.
A Taiwan military official denied the tests were an attempt to send a political message to Beijing or Washington. He said the tests were scheduled long before the announcement of Hu's visit.
The tests also come on the heels of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates' visit to Beijing and China's unveiling of the J-20 stealth fighter.
"The Taiwanese government has to take the J-20 test flight seriously," said Arthur Ding, a cross-strait military affairs expert at Taiwan's National Chengchi University. However, the missile tests are "more of a political posture for the domestic audience."
Whether or not the tests were meant to send a political message to China or the U.S., it appears to have backfired when six of the 19 missiles fired failed to strike their targets.
Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou expressed disappointment and called for the military to better prepare itself in the future. A Taiwan military official expressed concern over Ma's remarks and described the test as a complex exercise involving different elements of the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps from around the island.
The tests were a rare event that included virtually every air-to-air and surface-to-air missile in Taiwan's arsenal minus the AIM-120 AMRAAM and Patriot PAC-2 missile systems, said another military official. The last public missile test at Jiupeng was in 2002 and was of a much smaller scale, he said.
Surface-to-air missiles launched during the exercise included the Tien Kung 2 (Sky Bow), MIM-23 Hawk and Sparrow. Air-to-air missiles included AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles launched from F-16 fighters, French-built Mica and R550 Magic II launched from Mirage 2000 fighters, and the locally developed Tien Chien 2 (Sky Sword) launched by the Indigenous Defense Fighter. The Army also fired AIM-9 missiles from AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters.
The Mica, AIM-7 and Tien Chien 2 were among the six that failed to strike their targets. The military is investigating the reason, said military officials.
A tri-service military exercise scheduled for Jan. 20-21 does not appear to be connected to the missile exercise nor to Hu's visit to Washington. Military officials have stated the exercise is part of a traditional year-end drill held before Chinese New Year to recognize outstanding military units.