From late April through early May, Chinese smugglers passed by Kinmen on rafts and into the Taiwan Strait, illegally entering Taiwan’s territorial waters. An ongoing investigation has suggested that the most likely motivation behind the intrusions was to gather intelligence on the weaknesses of Taiwan’s coast guard patrols.
On the morning of July 30, two fishing vessels from the Chinese city of Sanya, on the southern end of Hainan Island, appeared in the waters off Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼), off the east coast of Taiwan proper, encroaching upon prohibited waters a mere 10 nautical miles (18.52km) from the island, before they were chased away by Coast Guard Administration patrol ships.
The Ministry of National Defense often conducts research in Taiwan’s territorial waters and air defense identification zone to the east, and it is increasingly common to see China engaged in intelligence gathering under the guise of fishing vessels passing through this area.
For an island nation such as Taiwan, it is imperative for the government to bolster the coast guard’s capabilities, and establish patrolling that is comprehensive and competent in the nation’s coastal waters and air defense identification zones.
When first established, the coast guard performed patrol and reconnaissance missions with the Airborne Patrol Squadron. The squadron initially employed helicopters leased from foreign civil aviation companies, with plans to bolster its fleet with fixed-wing aircraft and drones.
However, the government subsequently implemented the “aircraft centralization policy,” which merged the airborne fleets of several state agencies under the National Airborne Service Corps (NASC) and disbanded the coast guard’s squadron.
The coast guard’s airborne patrol and reconnaissance duties are presently undertaken with support from the NASC’s helicopter fleet, flying about 50 missions, or 100 hours, per month.
The coast guards of regional neighbors, such as China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, have dedicated airborne squadrons, including fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. Irrespective of their sizes, these fleets all show the inadequacies of Taiwan’s and the pressing need for the coast guard to have a dedicated fleet.
The Ocean Affairs Council in a report proposed the establishment of a coast guard airborne fleet, including 12 fixed-wing aircraft and eight rotary-wing aircraft, but the proposal was shelved due to a price tag of NT$25 billion (US$898.28 million). Cost aside, the establishment of a dedicated airborne fleet would do much to improve the coast guard’s patrol, supervision and reconnaissance abilities, especially given the many advantages of fixed-wing aircraft, which can travel faster and cover longer distances.
While in the air force, I was once diverted during a training mission to assist a coast guard vessel in apprehending a ship engaged in illegal activity at sea. Not only was I able to reach the ship very quickly, but I was able to circle at low altitude, meaning that I acted as a deterrent to those onboard. Fixed-wing aircraft perform an indispensable role on ocean patrols, as evidenced elsewhere in the world.
Leasing civil aviation fixed-wing aircraft is a better way to ensure that the coast guard has comprehensive three-dimensional patrol capability and that government funds are not wasted by duplicate purchases.
While ensuring that every part of the nation’s maritime territory is secure, it would also boost demand for the defense industry and stimulate the economy.
Shawn Chen is a retired Republic of China Air Force pilot and combat officer and holds a master’s degree in strategy and national security from National Chung Cheng University.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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