Despite efforts by the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to lower tensions in the Taiwan Strait, the Chinese military continues to build up its missile threat against its neighbor, according to recent reports of modernization efforts at missile bases in China’s Fujian Province.
Reports late last month said recent US spy satellite imagery had uncovered what appeared to be evidence of new missile launch pads in Fujian Province, including in Xianyou in the province’s southeast, directly -opposite Taiwan.
However, according to the latest issue of British defense magazine Jane’s Defence Weekly, the imagery was likely evidence of modernization of an old People’s Liberation Army (PLA) missile brigade under direct control of the Nanjing Military Region rather than new missile bases.
Military analysts suspect that command of the ground support missile brigade at Xianyou, which became operational in 1993, was recently shifted to the Second Artillery Corps, which oversees China’s conventional and nuclear ballistic missile forces.
Prior to falling under control of the Second Artillery’s 52 Base, the missile brigade around Xianyou comprised about 100 Dong Feng 11 (DF-11) short-range (300km) ballistic missiles (SRBM).
As part of ongoing modernization efforts, those missiles are now believed to be in the process of being replaced by the more modern 600km-range DF-11As, Jane’s said.
The DF-11 is a solid-fuel, road-mobile SRBM carried on transporter erector launcher (TEL) vehicles.
In earlier reports, Kanwa Asia Defense Review claimed that along with new equipment, the base may also have been given a new mission, Jane’s reported.
The Second Artillery’s main ballistic missile base in Fujian, 817 Brigade, is located in Yongan City. Six brigades of DF-11As are believed to be based there.
The brigades at Xianyou and Yongan are part of the PLA’s ballistic missile force, estimated at 1,500 missiles, targeted at Taiwan, an arsenal that includes medium-range DF-15s and DF-16s, as well as hundreds of cruise missiles.
Commenting on the imagery, Kanwa Asia Defense Review claimed that two of the new launch pads were constructed in northern Fujian, with one located 100km northwest of Fuzhou, less than 260km from Taipei.
At least two launch pads have also been detected on mountaintops in the Huashuang area, about 270km from Taipei. Yet another launch pad has been spotted 209km from Taipei, which the magazine said was also built prior to 2007 and is now under the control of No. 820 artillery brigade based in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province.
However, Gary Li, an intelligence analyst at UK-based Exclusive Analysis, said that without closer analysis of the imagery, it was impossible to rule out the possibility that some of the so-called launch pads seen around Fujian were fake TELs — which the PLA has reportedly been fielding in increasing numbers to deceive satellites — or long-range multiple rocket launchers such as the PHL-03s used by the army.
Commenting on the reports, local military experts said China had also strengthened its ability to protect its ballistic missiles with air-defense systems.
Ministry of National Defense spokesman David Lo (羅紹和) said the ministry has stepped up its monitoring of China’s military deployments and movements and would work out response strategies to protect national security.