TAIPEI — In preparation for upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations, a tri-service exercise by the Taiwan military demonstrated its resolve to protect the self-ruled island from a surprise Chinese attack during the week-long holiday in February. The Jan. 26-27 exercise was designed to shore up public confidence in the military’s ability to protect Taiwan during celebrations.
The exercise comes on the heels of a landslide victory in both the legislative and presidential elections for the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The DPP swept the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) from power during Jan. 16 polls. China claims Taiwan as sovereign territory and has threatened to invade the fledgling democracy should it declare formal independence.
The military exercises began on the Taiwan-controlled island of Kinmen, off the coast of China’s Xiamen City, Fujian Province, with a demonstration by the Army’s elite Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion (ARB). The unit displayed knife-fighting skills, sabotage operations with explosives, low-profile beach approaches, and weapons and scuba gear.
The ARB showed off a variety of new rifles, including the locally produced 5.56mm T-91 assault rifle, LWRC-made 7.62mm Sniper Rapid Engagement Rifle, and the Barrett .50 M107A1 anti-material sniper rifle. Despite the impressive demonstration, a Defense Ministry source said the ARB is downsizing due to budget issues and restructuring plans to reduce the military’s presence on the outer islands of Matsu and Kinmen.
The air power exercise was a demonstration by the 455th (4th) Tactical Fighter Wing based at Chiayi Air Force Base in west-central Taiwan. The base has two squadrons of Block 20 F-16A/B fighter aircraft.
The 455 demonstrated the loading of AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles aboard an F-16, an emergency response take-off of an F-16, and the landing and take-off of several F-16s.
The base just suffered a personal tragedy with the death of a pilot on Jan. 21. The pilot was training as a member of the 21st Tactical Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
The base also showed off its Sikorsky S-70C Blue Hawk and EC225 Super Puma search-and-rescue helicopters, including the introduction of women as rescue swimmers, as part of its Air Rescue Group. Taiwan procured three Super Pumas in a $111 million deal in 2010.
Taiwan’s Navy concluded the two-day event with an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) exercise in the Taiwan Strait with the 124th Fleet based at Tsoying Naval Base in the southern city of Kaohsiung. The ASW exercise involved a single Sikorsky S-70C operating from the 702nd Helicopter Squadron, along with a Kidd-class destroyer and La Fayette frigate.
The Navy also showed off its newest class of Taiwan-produced low radar-observable ships, the 560-ton Tuo Chiang-class corvette and 170-ton Kuang Hua-6, both armed with Hsiung Feng anti-ship missiles, and the 10,000-ton AOE-532 Pan-shi fast combat support ship.
Taiwan’s new president, Tsai Ing-wen, will be inaugurated on May 20. Tsai, the first female elected to the executive office, won 56 percent of the vote, compared with the KMT’s candidate who won only 31 percent. Voter turnout was 66 percent.
In the legislative election, the DPP won 68 of the 113 seats, while the KMT took 35. This is the first time the DPP has secured control of the legislature and will be the first time the DPP will run the Foreign and National Defense Committee.