The armed forces yesterday held a major live-fire drill in Pingtung County, weeks after the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration was accused of being soft on national defense for not using live ammunition during the Han Kuang series of exercises in April.
The Lien Yung exercise, which Ma attended, was held at the Tri-Service Joint Training Base at Paolishan (保力山) in Henchun (恆春), Pingtung County, the nation’s only base for live-fire exercises of this magnitude.
In all, 935 members from the army, air force and navy took part in the drill, which involved F-16A/B aircraft, AH-1W attack helicopters, OH-58D reconnaissance helicopters, CM-11 battle tanks, M109 howitzers and Javelin anti-tank missiles, as well as a variety of grenade launchers and rifles, all aimed at targets on the flank of the mountain.
The 584th Armored Brigade, based in Hukou Township (湖口), Hsinchu County, and the 601st Air Cavalry Brigade, based in Longtan Township (龍潭), Taoyuan County, comprised the bulk of the forces.
During the operation, a Knox-class frigate set up a naval air defense perimeter at sea.
The Lien Yung exercise, one of three tri-services exercises held routinely, takes place on a rotational basis every 18 months, following five weeks of training. Yesterday’s event was the culmination of the 584th’s training.
A military official told the Taipei Times after the exercise that media disapproval of the absence of live-fire exercises during Han Kuang in April was the main reason reporters had been invited to attend Lien Yung.
Ma and the military maintain that the decision to forgo live ammunition usage during Hang Kuang — the nation’s largest series of exercises — stemmed from regional safety considerations and efforts to minimize the inconvenience caused to local residents.
The official also said that live-fire exercises did take place during Han Kuang, but that those were not publicized.
This was the second time since Ma took office in 2008 that the media had been invited to attend the drill.
In a 10-minute speech following the exercise, which he deemed “admirable,” Ma reaffirmed his commitment to national defense through a three-pronged approach of institutional cross-strait rapprochement, the alignment of national defense and diplomacy, and further participation in the international community. He also said that in the next four years, Taiwan would continue to acquire weapons from abroad that it cannot develop domestically.
Ma’s remarks came as it is becoming increasingly clear that Taiwan will abandon its efforts to acquire 66 F-16C/Ds from the US.