US Connections? US officials are looking into the possible advantages of integrating with the Taiwan radar installation at Leshan. (Federation of American Scientists)
TAIPEI — A US congressman has introduced a provision directing the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to provide a report detailing any benefits, and associated costs and security requirements, of integrating Taiwan’s early warning radar (EWR) with US missile defense and sensor systems.
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., introduced the provision May 1 into the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. Forbes chairs the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee.
The provision states that Taiwan “possesses a large and highly capable” EWR and that “the committee believes that, based on its geographical location, this radar could be a benefit to United States and allied missile defense objectives.”
The committee directs the MDA to provide the report in “unclassified form, with a classified annex if necessary” no later than Oct. 1.
It further states, separately, the “Under Secretary of Defense for Policy may provide an additional report detailing his views on the benefits and costs of such cooperation.”
Taiwan’s EWR is one of the most advanced radars in the world, said Mark Stokes, director of the Project 2049 Institute. It is a multifaceted, ultra-high frequency radar capable of tracking air-breathing targets, such as fighters and cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles. “It also has jamming capabilities.”
The radar, based on Leshan Mountain near Hsinchu City, faces China on the island’s west central coast. Built by Raytheon, the radar is part of Taiwan’s surveillance radar program that originally called for two radars, one at Leshan and the other in the southern part of the island.
The radar is capable of tracking 1,000 targets simultaneously and in late 2012, shortly after going online, the radar reportedly tracked the launch of a North Korean missile. The radar is visible on Google Earth and is 170 kilometers from China’s coastline and directly across from China’s signal intelligence station at Dongjing Shan.
The second radar has since been canceled due to costs. Raytheon won the $800 million contract in 2004 and began construction in 2009. Delays caused by landslides and technical problems forced Taiwan to agree to pay an additional $397 million to finish the project.
Stokes, who served as a US Air Force attaché in Beijing in the 1990s and later as the China-Taiwan Desk Officer in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said it has the “most powerful software ever developed.”
There is no doubt there would be benefits to the US and regional allies if the connection could be made, he said.
China will likely protest any attempt by the US to connect to the radar. Ironically, China’s instigation during the 1995-96 Taiwan Strait missile crisis created a requirement for an EWR.
During the crisis, China launched 10 DF-15 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) into the waters north and south of the island. The intent was to intimidate Taiwan voters from participating in the island’s first democratic election, but the effort was in vain. At the time, China had approximately 350 DF-11/15 SRBMs, but today that number is about 1,300, according to Pentagon estimates. This does not include new deployments of land-attack cruise missiles and fighter aircraft since the crisis.
Taiwan also responded to the crisis by procuring Patriot Advanced Capability-2 (PAC-2) ballistic missile defense systems and, more recently, PAC-3 systems. Taiwan also fields its own Tien Kung (Sky Bow) long-range air defense missile system and a new land-attack cruise missile, the Hsiung Feng 2E (Brave Wind).
If the US establishes a connection to the Leshan EWR, it will not be the first surveillance agreement between the US and Taiwan. Since the early 1990s, Taiwan has hosted a US National Security Agency signal intelligence collection facility at Pingtun Li on Yangmingshan Mountain, just north of Taipei, in conjunction with Taiwan’s National Security Bureau. ■