Mon, Dec 22, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Missile defenses are not enough

By Chang Pai-ta 張百達

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said on Nov. 30 that intelligence data obtained by the government show that China has now deployed 496 M-class missiles along its southeastern coast, within 600km of Taiwan. One hundred ninety-two missiles are in Jiangxi Province, 208 in Fujian Province and 96 in Guangdong Province. Chen said that since the nation is facing an external threat, he will cite Article 17 of the Referendum Law (公民投票法) and hold a referendum.

The threat posed by China's M-class missiles to Taiwan's security is beyond doubt. Assessments of the seriousness of the threat vary since these judgements involve a comprehensive assessment of China's political ambitions and military prowess.

If these missiles were fired, it would take only seven or eight minutes for them to hit targets in Taiwan. But the military would not have even this much time to react. Any reaction could only begin once incoming missiles were detected; then calculation of trajectories and interception points would have to be carried out before an interception mission could begin. The missiles' trajectories are low and therefore the time available to react to them is short, perhaps three or four minutes, or even less.

In terms of active defense, if the missiles were not intercepted at once, our military would not have the capability to fire an additional wave of defensive missiles.

According to reports from the US Department of Defense, China uses a global positioning system and inertia navigation equipment to reinforce the missiles' accuracy, and CEP (circular error probable) to equip them with precise attack capabilities. This poses a threat to Taiwan's command, control and communications systems, missile bases and airport facilities, which are vital to the military's air control capabilities.

If China attempts the sort of decapitation strike the US launched against Iraq and makes Taiwan's political and military leaders its primary targets, Taiwan will be plunged into a state of anarchy and therefore will be unable to undertake organized and effective defense and resistance.

In a symposium held by the Atlantic Council on Nov. 24 to discuss the impact that the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) reform and modernization efforts have had on Taiwan, retired US Rear-Admiral Eric McVadon said that there are two types of DF-21 Chinese medium-range missiles.

One type can carry nuclear warheads with a range of 1,800km and threaten US bases in Japan and Okinawa. The other type, he noted, is the new DF-21 missiles that carry conventional warheads intended to destroy missile defense systems, and thereby remove defenses against short-range missiles.

In other words, if Taiwan's anti-missile bases are destroyed by DF-21 missiles, we will have no active defense power against the nearly 500 M-class missiles.

China cannot rely solely on the 496 missiles to conquer Taiwan, but missile attacks might be the prelude to a large-scale Chinese invasion and have a decisive effect on a war in the Taiwan Strait. To make the first battle a decisive one and preclude US intervention, China's military build-up prioritizes the projection of power, the ability to move the battlefield and preparation of the battlefield along the southeastern coast.

Judging whether the threat is an imminent one must not be assessed only on the basis of previous types of war, the current political atmosphere, Beijing's intentions or the number of missiles. It must be evaluated on the basis of the overall development of the PLA's projection of power and its ability to shift from peacetime to wartime functions.

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