BALISHAN, Taiwan — Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou made a rare public appearance at the Lien Yong live-fire joint forces exercise at Balishan in the southern county of Pingtung near Kenting. The June 7 drill included the Taiwan Air Force, Navy and Army units.
Ma’s appearance at the live-fire exercise might have been in response to political criticism for not allowing a live-fire drill for the annual Han Kuang exercise, Taiwan’s largest war games, which took place from April 16-20.
The Lien Yong exercise involved 935 personnel and included a Knox-class frigate, F-16 fighter aircraft (401 TFW), OH-58D Kiowa reconnaissance helicopter, AH-1W SuperCobra attack helicopter, Paladin M109 self-propelled 155mm howitzer, and 105mm CM11 main battle tank. The CM-11 is locally produced with a M48H turret and M60 hull.
Ma described the 45-minute exercise as “admirable” and reassured critics that his administration continues to support a strong defense. “We will also continue to procure foreign arms that we cannot produce ourselves,” he said.
Ma defended his decision to exclude live-fire exercises for Han Kuang by citing safety concerns for residents near the exercise areas, but political critics accuse Ma of placating China.
The Balishan facility is Taiwan’s only large-scale live-fire exercise base for tanks and artillery. Each armor and artillery unit takes turns using the base for its required annual five-week live-fire joint forces training program, said a Ministry of National Defense (MND) source.
This is only the second time the media has been invited to a live-fire at Balishan, the MND source said; the first was in 2008.
Elements from the 601 Aviation Brigade based at Long Tang (Dragon Lake) in Taoyuan County sent OH-58D and AH-1W helicopters to participate. The Navy sent the one Chin Yang-class (Knox-class) frigate to provide air defense cover with its SM-1MR missile batteries.
Taiwan’s military has five types of exercises each year:
Han Kuang Field Training and Command Post Exercise (April-May)
Wan-An Total Mobilization Exercise (April) Tong Xin Resource and Commandeering Exercise (June)
He-An Military-Civilian Nuclear Exercise (September) Hwa-An Military-Civilian Chemical Exercise (October)
Joint Exercise-Combined Services
Combined Arms Brigade Command Post Exercise (October), Joint Maritime-Air Exercise (May/December), Shen-Jian Air Missile Defense Exercise (May), Shen-Gong Army and Marine Corp Anti-Missile Field Exercise (May/November), Taiwan Navy Counter Sea Missile Live Fire Exercise (May/September), and Operation “Shark” Anti-Submarine Exercise (May/July/December)
Lien-Xin Offshore Islands Exercises (10 times a year), Lien-Xing Joint Amphibious Training (May/December), Lien-Xiang Tri-Services Joint Air Defense Exercise (10 times a year), Lien-Yun Joint Airborne Operations Exercise (May), and Lien-Yong Tri-Services Joint Brigade-Battalion Live Fire Exercise (April/May/August/October/December).