Sun, Oct 20, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Innovation: not just a buzzword

By Lu Li-shih 呂禮詩

On Oct. 1, China’s National Day, 15,000 people took part in a parade in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

The parade included marching troops, armored vehicles and air echelons. Aside from the sheer spectacle, it is worth noting that almost 40 percent of the armaments on display were making their first such appearance. In what ways did this parade differ from the one held in 2017 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)? Threatened as Taiwan is by China’s military force, Taiwanese should pay careful attention to these details.

The arms embargo imposed on China by European countries and the US following the suppression of the 1989 democracy movement made it difficult for China to modernize its armed forces. In addition to copying and stealing military technology and doing its own research and development, China also forged a path of “innovation and asymmetric warfare.”

This explains why in the past several years, the PLA, despite having a fast-growing military budget, has still been using what appears to be last-century military equipment. However, Western countries have only just begun to understand that “re-innovation” can turn such obsolete technologies into tools of asymmetric warfare.

The two-seater Lie Ying, or “falcon,” autogyros that were paraded in the special forces formation are a fine example of this, as are truck-mounted early warning radar systems that drove by in the radar formation.

The Lie Ying is a light aircraft adapted for military use. Although they might seem a bit outlandish, these autogyros’ range is much longer than the width of the Taiwan Strait, and they can take off from converted container ships. With a coat of camouflage paint, they could be used by special forces to penetrate beyond the coastline for reconnaissance or sabotage missions.

Two types of truck-mounted early warning radar were shown in the parade. With features such as very high frequency and circular polarization antennas, they are capable of long-range anti-stealth early detection. Furthermore, the missile vehicle configurations in this year’s parade have progressed from tractor-trailer to truck-mounted structures. Evidently, China has learned from the actual warfare experience of air and missile strikes carried out by Israel against Syria.

The unusual shape of the Dongfeng-17 missile, which carries a hypersonic glide vehicle, made it a highlight of the parade. It employs a ballistic design proposed in the 1940s by aerospace engineer Qian Xuesen (錢學森), who was a key figure in China’s program to develop atomic and hydrogen bombs and artificial satellites. Its low operating altitude, high speed and irregular flight trajectory make it hard for missile defense systems to effectively detect and intercept. This missile is a fine example of the asymmetry achieved through the innovative application of ballistics that makes defense difficult.

An uncrewed underwater vehicle that was showcased in the parade’s uncrewed warfare formation can exert lateral thrust, surface, dive and use its propellers to maintain its position while performing underwater operations. This display indirectly confirms the concern expressed by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in his Sept. 4 article “This Is How a War With China Could Begin” that the PLA might sabotage cables on the seabed surrounding Taiwan. Kristof quotes Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) stating that military officials “are planning for defense and offense” in response to any such threat.

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