The naval officer who was reportedly responsible for firing a missile into the Taiwan Strait by accident on Friday might have done so due to fatigue, the Ministry of National Defense said yesterday, adding that the missile launch control procedure would be revised so that a device necessary to activate the launch sequence would be held in the safekeeping of warship commanders.
According to the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors’ Office, second-class petty officer Kao Chia-chun (高嘉駿) was sleep-deprived when he accidentally launched a Hsiung Feng III missile on a Chinchiang-class corvette. The missile ripped through a Taiwanese fishing vessel, killing the boat’s captain and injuring three crew.
Kao allegedly had a sleepless night due to stress prior to an equipment inspection and test on Friday, and during a rehearsal of the missile-launch procedure ahead of the test, Kao accidentally switched the missile control panel into “battle mode” and touched the “launch” button, thereby setting off a supersonic anti-ship missile armed with a live warhead.
Chief petty officer Chen Ming-hsiu (陳銘修) accompanied Kao to the operations room to rehearse the drill, but he later went out for a break, leaving Kao alone in the room.
Chen rushed back to the operations room and shifted the control panel back to “training mode” immediately after hearing the missile launch, but he was unable to terminate the missile launch or destroy it.
Prosecutors said Kao had been operating the missile launch system for three years and it was unimaginable that an experienced officer could commit such an error.
Further investigations would be conducted to determine whether the missile was launched by mistake or on purpose and the two men are to be charged with professional negligence causing death, prosecutors said.
To prevent accidental missile launches, the ministry yesterday said that it would require the commanding officer of a battleship to keep a device necessary to launch a missile in their safekeeping.
The device is a plug that connects a wire used to send a launch order, and it has until now been kept by the weapons systems officer, but the ministry said the piece of equipment would now be transferred to the commanding officer of a warship.
The order extends to all the navy’s combat vessels, including Kidd-class warships, Cheng Kung-class, Kang Ding-class and Chi Yang-class frigates, Chinchiang-class corvettes and missile patrol boats.
Navy Command Headquarters Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Mei Chia-shu (梅家樹) said the launch plug was deployed in the misfire incident last week.
The plug is deployed not just during war games, but during regular inspections, even if no missile is scheduled to be launched, Mei said.
Asked whether the control system could be redesigned to prevent accidental launches by a single officer, Mei said the weapons system is designed to be engaged immediately in the event of a war, adding that the navies of all countries deploy a two-person control mechanism to validate a launch order.