Israeli-made drone aircraft at the heart of a fierce political row between Israel and the US are likely to be a key element of any Chinese invasion of Taiwan, a Taiwanese military analyst said yesterday.
The US has imposed a series of tough military sanctions against Israel to pressure it to confiscate "Harpy" drone aircraft parts that China returned to state-owned manufacturer Israel Aircraft Industries last year.
Israel says the return was for routine maintenance, but Washington contends it was for an important technological upgrade. Israeli military officials have said work on the Harpy deal has been frozen.
With a range of 500km, the Harpy has the ability to locate and destroy enemy radar facilities. US officials fear China could use it to compromise the defense of Taiwan and endanger US military forces in the Pacific.
Milton Liao of the Council of Advanced Political Studies said the Harpy could be used in a Chinese invasion of Taiwan to destroy the nation's radar capabilities -- including those on its Patriot anti-missile system -- as part of gaining air superiority over the Taiwanese military.
Once air superiority was obtained, he said, the way would be cleared for a full-scale Chinese invasion across the Taiwan Straits.
The Harpy operates by overflying enemy air defenses, identifying the location of enemy radar installations through the electronic signals they emit, and then destroying them with a 32kg explosive payload.
Liao said the Harpy's effectiveness is enhanced by its small size -- it is only 2.1m long with a wingspan of 2.7m -- which makes it difficult for enemy radar to detect, allowing it to loiter around potential targets for extended periods of time.
He said that in any Chinese invasion of Taiwan it would be far more important than the other main anti-radar weapon in the Chinese inventory, the J-5, an aging MiG-type aircraft transformed by Chinese technicians into an unmanned drone vehicle in 2002.
A former US government official with long experience analyzing the Chinese military backed Liao's analysis. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information. Taiwanese military officials declined to comment on the Harpy controversy.
Earlier this month, Israeli officials and media reports said the US had imposed a series of tough sanctions on the Israeli arms industry since the beginning of the year, escalating tensions between the two allies over Israeli military sales to China.