The Ministry of National Defense yesterday denied reports that the Taiwanese army had “secretly” provided Coast Guard Administration forces on Itu Aba (Taiping Island, 太平島) with AT-4 anti-armor rocket launchers to counter landing craft, a move that would have created further controversy with regional claimants.
The news came as legislators and military officials were observing a live-fire exercise on Tuesday by the coast guard, which since 2000 has been in charge of protecting the island, located about 1,600km from Taiwan’s southernmost tip.
Itu Aba is the largest island in the Spratly island chain (南沙群島).
Citing military officials, the Chinese-language United Evening News reported that the AT-4 would help Taiwanese forces defend the island against landing-dock ships and vessels in nearby waters.
However, contacted yesterday, a spokesman at the ministry told the Taipei Times that the AT-4 “was not on the list of items shipped by the ministry to the island last month,” when the coast guard received delivery of an unspecified number of T63 120mm mortar systems and eight Bofors L/60 40mm anti-aircraft guns to replace older weapons. At the time, no announcement was made that the AT-4 would be part of the arms delivery.
Coast guard spokesman Hsieh Ching-chin (謝慶欽) also said that coast guard personnel on the island had not been equipped with the AT-4.
The AT-4, a man-portable unguided anti-armor launcher used by the army, can be used to attack landing craft, land-combat vehicles, and various fortified emplacements. Its 84mm warhead can penetrate armor 44.5cm thick. Its minimum range of 70m would allow forces to attack vessels and landing craft that manage to get very close to the island, which mortar units deployed on the island would be unable to do.
With a range of 6.1km, the new 120mm mortar will provide effective cover for Zhongzhou Reef (中洲礁), a small coral reef located 5km from Itu Aba controlled by Taiwan, but also claimed by China, Philippines and Vietnam. A coast guard vessel and a Vietnamese patrol boat were involved in a brief skirmish near the reef on March 22, which prompted calls for a strengthening of Taiwan’s defenses of the region.
Additional reporting by Rich Chang