Fri, Oct 03, 2014 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Ministry of Defense needs a review

On Sept. 25, aviation police held up a China Airlines civilian flight bound for the US from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport after discovering components for missile warheads during security checks. The incident caused alarm at the airport and among local security agencies, raising concerns that the weapons parts were being smuggled out for a terrorist organization. It was subsequently revealed that the components belonged to the Ministry of National Defense, which was sending faulty components back to the US for repair, and that the concerns were unfounded. The incident was widely reported by local media and although it was confirmed to be a false alarm due to a misunderstanding — to the relief of many — it should never have happened.

The parts the military was sending to the US for repairs were from a guidance system for 36 AIM-120 missile warheads. This is a matter of some gravity, which should have been conducted in secrecy, but for some reason the ministry neglected to inform the Aviation Police Bureau during preparations to ship the components. The bureau would have been guilty of serious dereliction of duty had it failed to discover the shipment. Imagine if these military weapons were being sent by anyone other than the authorities, or if it were possible to get such equipment through Taiwan’s airports without any checks being done. This is the stuff of nightmares. What if this military equipment had been shipped in the absence of any kind of security measures and had been nabbed en route by terrorists or a terrorist organization?

It is just as well that the airport police did hold up the weapons. At least it shows that the nation’s airport security is effective. However, at the same time, it also reveals how sloppy the defense ministry’s operating procedures are. The transportation of advanced missile systems components should have been kept secret, and yet, due to inadequate communication between the ministry and the aviation police, as well as procedural negligence by the airline in its failure to ensure proper documentation — stating that there were no safety concerns — the bureau’s intervention was exposed. As a result, details such as the method by which the military transports equipment, the model and exact number of missile warheads being sent for repair on this occasion, and that the US was willing to replace the warhead components for free, were laid out for all the world to see.

Taiwan finds itself in unusual circumstances. Purchasing military weapons is complicated. The US, under the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act, provides Taiwan with weaponry to protect itself, but to avoid interference or objections from China, any activity involving weapons procurement or maintenance, or personnel training, needs to be discreet or conducted in absolute secrecy. Despite this, and even though the personnel involved have a duty to maintain confidentiality, they cannot be careless and omit any of the administrative procedures or notification protocols. In this case, the omission of a simple notification document meant that the method by which the military transports major pieces of military equipment has been revealed, and details about US-Taiwan military cooperation exposed. The defense ministry and the entire national defense system will need to be thoroughly reviewed, and those responsible for these lapses disciplined.

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