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Indigenous Defence Fighter jets belonging to Taiwan’s air force are parked inside a hangar during the visit of President Tsai Ing-Wen in September. Photo: EPA-EFE

Taiwan’s purchase of US mobile communication system could help counter Chinese cyberattack

  • The Field Information Communications System is as significant as other, more high-profile weapons Washington has sold to Taipei, analyst says
  • The system can also be used for rescue missions during natural disasters like earthquakes or mudslides

A military Field Information Communications System the US has recently approved for sales to Taiwan could help the self-ruled island counter a cyberattack launched by the People’s Liberation Army, which would be of great importance in the event of war, according to analysts.

Though the system is not as eye-catching as other weapons the US has sold to Taiwan this year, it is something the island’s military cannot do without if it is to fight the increasingly powerful cyberwarfare of the PLA, they said.

On Monday, the US State Department notified Congress of the possible sale of the US$280 million Field Information Communications System to Taiwan to help modernise the island’s armed forces and maintain a credible defensive capability.

The deal consists of 154 communications nodes, 24 communication relays, eight network management systems and related equipment plus personnel training, technical and logistic support, according to the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency.

“The system may not look as striking as those of the AGM-84H Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) Missiles or land-based anti-ship Harpoon missiles Washington has sold to Taiwan this year, [but] its importance is definitely as significant as those weapons,” said Kevin Cheng, editor-in-chief of the Taipei-based Asia-Pacific Defence monthly.

Since May, the US has approved the sales of six batches of US$5.58 billion worth of arms to Taiwan, including MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones, High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, M142 launchers, Harpoon coastal missiles, MK48 (Mod 6 AT) torpedoes and AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER missiles.

Beijing, which considers Taiwan its territory that must be returned to its control, has repeatedly protested US arms sales to Taiwan.

Noting that Taiwan’s electronic communication system is relatively weak compared with the increasing electronic communications power of the PLA’s cybersystems, Cheng said the more advanced US system, which is used by the American military, would play an important role if the island’s central communications command were attacked or paralysed by the PLA.

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Cheng said the system could provide not only real-time field information to the central command but also effectively block the electronic interference imposed by the PLA’s cyberwarfare systems.

“The mobile capability of the system can help regulate troop deployments in various battlefields and can respond in real-time in the event of military threats posed by the PLA,” Cheng said.

The system can also be used in the time of natural disasters, like deadly earthquakes and landslides, Cheng said. He added that with the aid of the Field Information Communications System, Taiwanese soldiers on rescue missions could receive timely information from the trucks equipped with communications reception devices, which would be helpful if electricity and communications were disconnected in a disaster-struck area.

During an earthquake in 1999 that killed more than 2,400 residents in central Taiwan, the military used its Improve Mobile Subscribe Equipment (IMSE) to aid rescue missions where communications were paralysed.

Washington sold Taiwan anti-ship Harpoon missiles this year. Photo: Boeing Defence

Analysts said the more advance system was expected to replace IMSE, which has been in use for decades.

“With the PLA rapidly upgrading its electronic warfare capability, which has posed increasing threats to Taiwan, the sale of the system to us is timely and necessary,” said Chang Han-ching, a researcher at Taiwan Centre for International Strategic Studies, an academic research group.

He said that the Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology was also researching and developing similar military communications systems, and that the Taiwanese military could include technology transfer as part of the Field Information Communications System deal.

Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council – an important platform for US and Taiwan officials to exchange views on possible arms sales – said the deal would help Taiwan continue to modernise its military network backbone, providing its forces with improved communications and strengthened interoperability.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Purchase of US defence system ‘could help Taipei counter PLA cyberattack’