Members of Taiwan's Military Journalists Association were wearing a new patch with the phrase “Diaoyutai Is Ours!”, which included the image of a Taiwan soldier planting the Republic of China flag on the summit of the island, during recent exercises there. (Wendell Minnick / Staff)
KAOHSIUNG/HUALIEN — Taiwan’s military demonstrated its preparedness for any contingencies in the upcoming Chinese New Year holidays during a two-day tri-service drill Jan. 22-23.
The annual Combat Readiness Tri-Service Exercises are held before the beginning of each Chinese New Year, as a message to China and other potential adversaries that Taiwan remains alert during a time of celebration when much of the government is shuttered.
Though none of the exercises was aimed at demonstrating Taiwan’s political position on the ownership of the disputed Diaoyutai Islands with Japan (also known as the Senkaku Islands), the quarrel was not far from the minds of military officials and local journalists covering the event.
Members of Taiwan’s Military Journalists Association were wearing a new patch with the phrase “Diaoyutai Is Ours!”, which included the image of a Taiwan soldier planting the Republic of China flag on the summit of the island. One of the journalists said members of the association were distributing the patches to show support for Taiwan’s territorial claims.
Emotional expressions of support by Taiwanese for invading the islands are not new. In 1990, Taiwan’s military assembled a special operations unit of 45 soldiers to land on the main island of Diaoyu Dao (Uotsuri-jima) by helicopter. Exercise Han Chiang’s mission was to destroy a lighthouse erected at the time by Japanese rightists. Taiwan’s then-President Lee Tung-hui reportedly halted the mission.
As recently as Jan. 22, Taiwanese Minister of Foreign Affairs David Y.L. Lin said that the Diaoyutai Islands were Taiwan territory and an “appendage of Taiwan.” Further, “on this main point we cannot make concessions,” he said, but added that the government favored peaceful joint development of the area for fishing and other resources.
In August, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou proposed a five-point initiative for all parties to refrain from antagonistic actions; not abandon dialogue; observe international law; resolve disputes through peaceful means; and form a mechanism for exploring and developing resources on a cooperative basis.
However, Ma appears to have little control over Taiwan fishing boats and political activists who continue to harass Japanese Coast Guard vessels over the Diaoyutai issue.
Day One of Exercises
On day one, the military demonstrated anti-submarine warfare capabilities in the Taiwan Strait with a combined effort of air and sea anti-submarine warfare platforms locating and flushing to the surface an “enemy” submarine. The Dutch-built SS 793 Hai Lung (Sea Dragon) attack submarine played the aggressor.
The air elements included an S-70C helicopter and S-2T Turbo Tracker fixed-wing aircraft. The press observed the exercise aboard the PFG-1206 Di Hua Lafayette-class frigate, which was escorted by the PFG-1105 Chi Kuang and PFG-1109 Chang Chien Perry-class frigates.
The Navy’s refurbished 900-ton Osprey minehunters, MHC 1310 Yung Jin and MHC 1311 Yung An, obtained in August from the U.S. Navy, participated in the exercise. The vessels are equipped with Raytheon AN/SQQ-32 minehunting sonars, AN/SLQ-48 mine-neutralizing vehicles and two .50-caliber heavy machine guns.
Taiwan has been dependent on 1950s era minehunting vessels, such as the four Yung Yang-class (ex-U.S. Agile-class), four Yung Chia-class (ex-U.S. Adjutant-class) coastal minesweepers, and four German-built Yung Feng-class minehunters obtained in 1991.
Taiwan’s requirement for minehunting capabilities is based on fears China will mine the Tsoying Naval Base in the southwestern city of Kaohsiung and the Keelung Naval Base in northern Taiwan. A naval blockade is one of several probable scenarios experts warn China could use to intimidate Taiwan.
Also on maneuvers were six of the new stealthy Kuang Hua 6 fast-attack missile patrol boats armed with Hsiung Feng 2 anti-ship missiles.
The captain of the Di Hua, Peng Kuo-chou, said the exercise was a success and demonstrated the Navy’s anti-submarine and minehunting capabilities.
Day Two of Exercises
On day two, the exercise continued on the east coast at Hualien City, home of the Huadong Defense Command, which covers the defense of Hualien and Taitung. It is also known as the East Coast Defense Command.
The Army demonstrated the deployment of 10 M60A3 main battle tanks (MBT) along with an infantry deployment from armored personnel vehicles (APC). Static displays included the M60A3, CM22 (M106) tracked Mortar Carrier, M113A1/A2 tracked APC, and CM26 (M577) tracked command post carrier (CM = China Made and/or Made in Taiwan).
Taiwan’s military has an impressive array of tanks, including the M41D Walker Bulldog light tank, CM11/CM12 105mm MBT (modeled after the M48/M60), M48 and M60A3 MBT. Wheeled APCs include the four-wheeled V-150 Commando and the eight-wheeled Cloud Leopard infantry fighting vehicle. The Army has considered procuring the AM General-built four-wheeled Cobra armored light vehicle, but no decision has been made.
The final phase of the exercise occurred at the Hualien Air Force Base, home of the 401st (5th) Tactical Composite Wing. The wing comprises the 17th, 26th and 27th Tactical Fighter Group, made up of F-16A/B Block 20 fighter aircraft. It also comprises the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (Tigergazers) outfitted with nine RF-16 and five RF-5E Tiger aircraft.
A Taiwan defense official at the base said the RF-5E Tigers are still equipped with the older nose cameras, but the RF-16s are equipped with the AN/VDS-5 LOROP-EO (long-range oblique photographic) sensor pod.
The Taiwan defense source said the RF-16s had flown surveillance missions in the vicinity of the Diaoyutai Islands during recent problems with Taiwan fishing vessels confronting the Japanese Coast Guard.