Ma angered by misfires as Taiwan tests missiles

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 January, 2011, 12:00am

Taiwan yesterday staged a major missile drill before President Hu Jintao boarded his flight for a high-profile visit to the United States.

Almost a third of the 19 missiles fired missed their targets, raising concerns that the island needs to further strengthen its defensive capabilities.

The misses, during unusually public live-fire tests in the presence of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, came days after Beijing unveiled its first stealth jet fighter.

Analysts said the first tests since Ma took office in 2008 - held at the Jiupeng air base in the south of the island - were aimed at sending a message to the US that Taiwan needs stronger defences in the face of the mainland's military expansion.

The drill involved 12 units from the army, navy and air force.

The 11 kinds of missile fired included Taiwan-developed Sky Bow IIs, which have a range of 200 kilometres, as well as US MIM-23 Hawks, RIM-7M Sparrows and FIM-92 Stingers. The island's Patriot anti-missile weapons and medium-range air-to-air AIM-120 missiles did not feature.

The six missiles that failed to hit their targets included three Sparrows that exploded within 10 seconds of being fired, and Sky Sword II and Mica air-to-air missiles that plunged into the sea.

'I am not satisfied with the results,' Ma said after the drills. 'Some missiles missed the targets and we need to review whether these mistakes came from mechanical or human errors.'

He said the military needed to get to the bottom of the misses and hold more drills to boost its capabilities.

The high-profile staging of the drill in Jiupeng - the first since 2002, and in the presence of more than 60 journalists from 39 local and foreign media - came as the US prepared to host Hu and on the heels of the mainland's first known test flight of its radar-eluding J-20 stealth fighter.

Ma flatly dismissed speculation the timing of the drills may have been deliberate.

'There is absolutely no connection,' Ma said, adding the drill was merely a 'routine training exercise' and that 'Taiwan was not pursuing an arms race with the mainland'.

'We are simply taking the necessary precautions,' he said.

However, analysts said the staging of the drill sent signals to Beijing and Washington.

'It's a kind of declaration that Taiwan wants to show to the mainland and the US,' military expert Arthur Ding Shu-fan, secretary general of the Chinese Council of Advance Policy Study in Taipei, said.

He said the authorities need not have publicised the drill if they did not want to send a 'certain message'.

He said the mainland's development of the stealth fighter would have a strong impact on Taiwan's defensive capabilities.

'Taiwan needs to swiftly upgrade its radar-detecting capability before J-20 becomes operational,' he said.

Other analysts believed the timing was just a coincidence.

Alexander Huang Cheng-chieh, assistant professor at Tamkang University's Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies, said: 'The drill at the Jiupeng air base is just to show the world our resolve to defend our own country.'

Hong Kong-based defence analyst Ma Dingsheng noted that although the drill was high profile, Taiwan had not used the Patriot II missiles to avoid embarrassing the US.

Asked what he felt about the misses, he said it was common for missiles to miss their targets.

'I don't think the Taiwanese army deliberately did that,' he said. 'I believe it's close to actual combat, and the result is very reasonable. It's very difficult for missile systems to shoot targets from land to air, or air to air, as all objectives are moving, not fixed.

'Even the US' Patriot missiles were only capable of a 20-odd per cent hit rate in the Gulf War ... and what the Taiwanese army tested today is much inferior to the Patriot.'

Defence expert Wang Kao-cheng, from Tamkang University, said one purpose of the drill was to persuade the US to sell Taiwan the more advanced F-16 C/D fighter jets.

'In the face of rapid military expansion from the other side of the Taiwan Strait, the government here hopes to send a message to the US about its need to further strengthen its defensive capabilities,' Wang said.

Additional reporting by Minnie Chan