Several hundred AIM/RIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles (SAM) used by the air force have been categorized as “for emergency use only” after three of the US-made missiles encountered technical failures during an exercise in January last year that left the military embarrassed.
Following the exercise, in which one RIM-7 climbed about 200m into the air before plummeting into the South China Sea, while another RIM-7 and one AIM-7 missed their targets, the military requested that US military personnel and Raytheon Corp, maker of the missile, investigate the reasons for the failures.
The Sparrow is a medium-range, all-weather and semi-active guided missile. Six hundred AIM-7Ms were part of a 1992 deal in which Taiwan procured 150 F-16A/Bs.
For its part, the RIM-7 SAM is used on towed launchers as part of the Skyguard Air Defense System. Five hundred entered service in 1991.
As Taiwan awaits a response, the air force has suspended the test-firing of Sparrow missiles, citing safety concerns.
The US has reportedly asked countries that have Sparrow missiles in their inventories not to fire them during exercises to diminish training risks. As a result, no Sparrows were fired during another major missile test in Jioupeng (九鵬), Pingtung County, on July 9, the same base used in last year’s exercise.
Citing sources in the military, local media said earlier this week that US military personnel had attributed the failure in last year’s exercise to problems with the missile’s rocket propeller and radar cross section, which plays an essential role in radar range calculation.
Until answers are received, Taiwan’s stockpile of Sparrow missiles will be kept in storage.
To address the impact of that decision on air defense capabilities, the military has reportedly decided to provide two additional battalions with Antelope Air Defense Systems, which are equipped with the a surface-to-air version of the domestically produced Tien Chien I missile.