Officials monitor passage of ‘Liaoning’

‘AIRCRAFT CARRIER KILLERS’::A military officer said that the nation’s Hsiung Feng missiles could overwhelm the defensive systems of the Chinese carrier group

By Jason Pan and Su Yung-yao  /  Staff reporters in Taipei and Managua

Thu, Jan 12, 2017 - Page 1

Top government officials and military command centers yesterday closely monitored the passage of Chinese aircraft carrier the Liaoning and escort warships as the fleet passed through the Taiwan Strait, sending reports to President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).

The vessels were expected to exit Taiwan’s air defense identification zone after press time last night.

Tsai, who is on a nine-day state visit to Central America, conferred with top military and national security officials on the Liaoning’s passage through the Taiwan Strait, speaking via telephone with National Security Council Deputy Secretary-General Chen Chun-ling (陳俊麟) and Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuang (馮世寬) yesterday morning.

Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang (黃重諺) said Tsai made the calls upon her return to her hotel in Managua after attending Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s inauguration ceremony.

“Tsai instructed the council and the Ministry of National Defense to closely monitor developments and to stand by contingency plans to reassure the public that they can relax,” Huang said, adding that the president was satisfied with monitoring and mobilization efforts by the agencies.

Huang said that even before Tsai’s departure, government ministries had activated deployment and contingency plans to enable the comprehensive tracking and surveillance of the fleet’s movement, location and weapons deployment.

Earlier yesterday, ministry officials said the carrier group did not intrude into Taiwan’s territorial waters, but it entered the nation’s air defense identification zone from the southwest, sailing northward, at about 7am.

The Liaoning and its escort vessels kept to the Chinese side, west of the median line of the Taiwan Strait, with passage estimated to take more than 10 hours.

It was expected to leave the zone late last night, ministry spokesman Major General Chen Chung-chi (陳中吉) said.

Defense forces deployed F-16s, Indigenous Defense Fighter jets, P-3C surveillance aircraft and frigates to monitor and track the Chinese warships’ movements.

The Liaoning conducted naval exercises in the South China Sea, with its squadron of 15 Shenyang J-15 aircraft and had seven escort vessels, including three missile cruisers.

A high-ranking military official was quoted in reports as saying that the ministry had contingency plans and was prepared for missile strikes targeting the carrier group if the vessels had crossed the median line, trespassing in Taiwan’s territorial waters.

A combination of Taiwan’s locally developed Hsiung Feng II and Hsiung Feng III missiles, if deployed in successive waves of attacks, could overwhelm the defensive systems of the carrier group, said the official, who declined to be named.

Chang Cheng (張誠), a retired engineer who helped to develop the Hsiung Feng III missiles at the nation’s main defense research center, agreed with the assessment.

“I have no doubt that our Hsiung Feng III missiles could do the job,” Chang said, adding that the supersonic missiles have earned the nickname “aircraft carrier killers” and can reach 2.5 to 3 times the speed of sound.