President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday said he was “not happy” with the results of a major air defense missile test at a testing base in Pingtung County that coincided with the departure of Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) for Washington on a state visit.
In the first major exercise open to the media at the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology’s (CSIST) Jiupeng missile testing base in Pingtung County since 2002, three services — the air force, army and marine corps — fired 11 types of surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles, including the indigenous-made Tien Kung II “Sky Bow” (TK-II) and US-made AIM-7 “Sparrow.”
A total of 19 missiles were fired during the air defense drill.
Months in the making and involving the participation of 576 members of the armed forces and the CSIST, the exercise showcased a number of platforms, including the F-16A/B, Mirage 2000, F-5E/F, Ching Kuo Indigenous Defense Fighter and AH-1W Cobra attack helicopter, as well as various ground-based launchers.
However, despite the impressive array, six of the 19 missiles encountered technical problems, with one Sparrow climbing about 200m into the air before radically changing direction and plummeting into the South China Sea.
Of the six malfunctions, four involved missiles coming close to their target, but failing to detonate, while the other two missed their target altogether.
The TK-II, which has a range of 200km, performed handsomely, the military said, reportedly destroying its target at a distance of 100km. At its narrowest point, the Taiwan Strait is about 130km wide.
Air force Political Warfare Department director Pan Kung-hsiao (潘恭孝) told reporters at a debriefing that the military and CSIST were investigating the causes of the malfunctions. Early reports pointed to problems with tracking mechanisms and target acquisition.
At a press conference following the exercise, Ma, who had watched from a building overlooking the sprawling testing base located deep in the mountains, appeared unimpressed.
“I’m not satisfied with the results,” he said. “I hope the military will determine the reasons and improve its training.”
The Ministry of National Defense said an overall success rate of about 70 percent in such exercises was acceptable.
With 13 hits and six misses, yesterday’s rate was slightly short of its target, at 68.4 percent.
The exercise, which came on the heels of China’s unveiling of its J-20 stealth fighter, has given rise to speculation that its timing was no accident and constituted a response to Beijing.
Asked by reporters if the exercise was indeed meant as a countermove against Beijing’s military demonstrations or Hu’s trip to the US, Ma said the drill had “nothing whatsoever” to do with China and was intended to increase public awareness on defense issues.
Ministry officials told the Taipei Times that the timing of the exercise — the first of two to be held this year in the context of the celebrations surrounding the 100th anniversary of the Republic of China — had been set prior to the announcement of Hu’s visit to Washington or the Jan. 11 test flight of Beijing’s J-20.
The date of the second exercise has yet to be announced.