Tue, Jul 25, 2017 - Page 3 News List

Escalation sees Itu Aba allocated howitzers

EMPTY THREAT?The Vietnamese military has dug artillery positions on Sandy Cay, 13km from Itu Aba, but has not yet occupied them with military pieces, an official said

By Lo Tien-pin and Jonathan Chin  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

The military has given the Coast Guard Administration six 155mm howitzers which it is holding in reserve for deployment on Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island 太平島) if more firepower is needed to bolster the island’s defenses, a defense official who declined to be named said on Sunday.

Itu Aba is the largest naturally occurring landmass in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), some or all of which are also claimed by China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

The coast guard took up the military’s offer to supply heavy guns after reviewing the Ministry of National Defense’s recommendations in April for defending Itu Aba, which is the coast guard’s responsibility, the official said.

The howitzers are to be stored on Taiwan proper and would not be deployed unless nations with military bases near the island decide to undermine the balance of power by reinforcing their garrisons first, the official said.

It is not Taiwan’s policy to alter the balance of power by increasing the firepower of its garrison without provocation, the official said.

The most significant military threat to Itu Aba is Vietnam’s illegal military occupation of Sandy Cay (Dunqian Cay, 敦謙沙洲), which lies 13km from the island, the official said.

The howitzers have an effective range of 14.6km, enough to reach guns the Vietnamese military is rumored to be placing on Sandy Cay, the official said.

Although the Vietnamese military has dug artillery positions on Sandy Cay, it has not deployed artillery pieces yet, the official said, adding the Taiwanese garrison would carefully watch for any developments and respond if the situation changes.

The ministry in April said that coast guards on Itu Aba might need heavy weapons to complement their 20mm and 40mm guns, 81mm and 120mm mortars, AT-4 rocket launchers and small arms.

The ministry report said Itu Aba’s defenses should be bolstered with drones, mobile radar systems, an integrated surveillance and defense system, multiple-launch rocket artillery turrets and double-barrel 20mm guns.

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