Mon, Jan 31, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Time to look after our own defense

By Wang Jyh-perng 王志鵬

On Jan. 18, hot on the heels of China’s leaked test flight of its new J-20 stealth fighter and just as Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) was in the US on a state visit, Taiwan’s military conducted joint surface-to-air and air-to-air missile tests at the Jiupeng military base in Pingtung County. During the test a total of 19 missiles were launched, six of which — among them the TC-1 Sky Sword (天劍), the MICA (雲母) short to medium-range air-to-air tactical missile, the RIM-7M Sparrow (麻雀) and the ground-launched Sparrow (陸射麻雀) — failed to hit their targets. That makes a success rate of only 68 percent, a fact the newspapers made sure we were aware of.

The next day the Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced on its official Web site that a preliminary expert assessment suggests the problems were the result of faulty detonators or thrusters. It added that success rates of 73 percent conformed more to the norm.

I doubt the problem lay with individual pieces of equipment. The usual way these live fire tests go is that roughly twice the amount of missiles expected to be launched are selected, each given the once over and tested for internal and external mechanical and functional integrity, for both stationary and moving parts. If no problems are discovered, they go through comprehensive simulated tests together with the launching systems, and if any issues arise with any link in the chain the simulations are repeated, from beginning to end. The equipment will only enter the official launch stage if it has passed all tests.

How, then, could the poor performance of the missiles during this last test have been because of individual pieces of faulty equipment? I’m sure that if they just picked missiles at random and put them straight into the tests without checking them out first the failure rate would have been startling.

However, these live fire tests cannot really be taken in isolation and need to be seen in the context of previous live fire tests and how they have evolved over an extended period of time. The crucial issues among all this are the more entrenched problems of the armed forces’ combat preparedness and mentality, as well as civil service reform.

So what have we learned from this latest test firing, in the context of previous tests? Well, we should be concentrating on reducing the failure rate of indigenous equipment, to a considerable degree. Of the various models of fighter planes currently in service with the air force, the majority of fighter pilots agree that the Ching-Kuo IDF (Indigenous Defense Fighter) is the most likely to be combat ready, and is the easiest to operate.

The crux of the matter is the degree to which the military can control subsequent technological developments and components for weapons and equipment bought from overseas after the original purchase. The electrical components, structural parts and fuel of even the most advanced current weapons and systems will go out of production and eventually run out, and many of these are integral to the others, and therefore indispensable to the functioning of the weapon or system in question.

Frequent testing is essential to keep tabs on which parts need replacing, either because they have passed their expiry date or are faulty for some reason, and naturally the risk of either of these problems being encountered increases as time passes. This problem is even more true in the case of previously used weapons or equipment that is either in the process of being decommissioned or that has already been decommissioned.

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