China’s plan to purchase Russia’s new S-400 anti-aircraft missile defense system is expected to put Taiwan in greater jeopardy in the case of a Chinese invasion, as the system would likely increase Beijing’s ability to control the skies over the nation and over the Taiwan Strait.
However, Russia’s S-400 system is not enough to stop the US from coming to Taiwan’s aid — if Washington makes that decision — and the US already has classified countermeasures for dealing with it, Global Security think tank director John Pike said.
Russian state weapons export agency Rosoboronexport announced the US$3 billion sale last week.
Defense News reports that the system, with an estimated range of 400km, would allow China to strike any aerial target over Taiwan.
“The S-400 will challenge Taiwan’s ability to conduct air defense operations within its own air defense identification zone, which covers the Taiwan Strait,” Defense News said.
“There’s no doubt that Russia and China would like Taiwan to think this is very bad news,” Pike said.
However, he said that while the S-400 sale should be of “great concern” to Taiwan, it would not be decisive in an actual invasion.
Pike said that if the US decides to defend Taiwan, the S-400 system would not impact that decision and that he was confident the Pentagon could deal with the Russian-made system.
According to Defense News, China’s aging inventory of S-300s — with an estimated range of about 300km — allows it to strike targets only along Taiwan’s northwest coast.
Earlier this year, the Project 2049 Institute said the potential of an S-400 sale to China had “understandably caused something of a panic in Taiwan security circles.”
Research fellow Ian Easton wrote on the Project 2049 Web site that the S-400 threat “may not be as dire as forecast.”
Easton said: “Chinese air defenses are not invulnerable today, not will they be in the future.”
He said that in peacetime, if an S-400 air surveillance radar unit were switched on, it would be subject to immediate interception by Taiwanese signals intelligence units on Dongyin Island (東引), Matsu Island and the Penghu Islands.
It would also be detectable by US and Japanese signals intelligence units on Okinawa, submarines off the Chinese coast and crewed and automated aircraft patrolling in the East China Sea.
Once radar emissions are captured, countermeasures can be developed, Easton added.
China still would not have missile coverage over Taiwan’s air bases at most operational altitudes, and Taiwanese pilots could fly under the S-400’s radar sweep, Easton said.
Also, in case of a full-scale conflict, Chinese S-400 missiles would be susceptible to Taiwanese electronic jamming and cyberwarfare units, anti-radiation drones and cruise missiles.
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