Military experts yesterday speculated on the implication of the government’s tight-lipped response and the lack of air-raid sirens during the first day of China’s military drills the previous day.
On Thursday, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched 11 Dongfeng-series ballistic missiles into waters north, east and south of Taiwan, a day after US House of Representative Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s departure from the country, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said.
The Japanese Ministry of Defense said that China fired nine missiles toward Taiwan, including four that flew over Taiwan proper.
Image courtesy of the Japanese Ministry of Defense
However, China’s exhibition of force failed to terrorize the local populace, because Taiwan did not turn on air-raid sirens or tell the media, Taiwan Security Analysis Center director Mei Fu-shing (梅復興) wrote on Facebook.
Typically, the highest altitude a conventional ballistic missile could reach is equal to about a quarter of its maximum range, he said.
This means the DF-15B missiles China likely fired should have been capable of reaching an altitude of 150km, he said.
If the Japanese defense ministry’s statements are accurate, then the missiles would have been flying at an altitude of 100km as they crossed Taiwan proper, he said.
Their flight paths were likely plotted to ensure that they could fly over Taiwan without falling too close to it, thereby accidentally triggering a war, he said.
The PLA has accidentally fired Dongfeng missiles into Chinese territory during live-fire drills before, including one inadvertent strike on Fujian Province in July 1995 and another on Guanxi Province in August 2020, he said.
Another reason to fly the missiles at that altitude is to avoid an outright breach of international law, so as to deprive Taiwan of the opportunity to protest China’s actions, he said.
The possibility that China would take further action cannot be ruled out, as the exercise had yet to run its scheduled course of 72 hours, he said, adding that the Chinese military should be closely monitored over the next few months.
Taiwanese armed forces should expect China to regularly fly warplanes along the median line of the Taiwan Strait, and take appropriate precautions against contingencies, such as mid-air collisions, he said.
A high-level defense official said on condition of anonymity that discrepancies between Taiwan’s and Japan’s statements about the missiles likely arose from difficulties in tracking fast-moving rockets.
Although the majority of the missiles fired were DF-15Bs, several hypersonic DF-17s were also launched, they said.
“This type [DF-17] missile is not only faster, but is also apparently capable of changing its trajectory by gliding after re-entry to confuse radar detectors,” he said, adding that the capability could be a factor affecting Japan’s estimations.
As to the lack of information from Taipei about the missiles, they said that publishing too much information too soon might reveal Taiwan’s intelligence-gathering capabilities.
“Information is typically not released in real-time and information about the missiles would likely be published sometime after the launch,” he said. “This delay is necessary to create a buffer for intelligence [gatherers].”
The MND should have considered sending out brief text messages to inform the public about the missiles and provide assurances that air-raid sirens were not necessary, retired lieutenant general Chang Yan-ting (張延廷), who was an air force deputy commander, told the Central News Agency.
There is no doubt that Taiwanese radar picked up the trail of the Chinese missiles and Taiwan would have a better understanding of the situation than the more distant Japan, he said.
However, the Japanese statement showed that Tokyo is practicing former prime minister Abe Shinzo’s motto that “a Taiwanese emergency is a Japanese emergency,” he said.
Taiwanese armed forces should use the Chinese drills as an opportunity to glean facts about its adversary’s missiles and consider intercepting them with Patriot missiles, he said.
“We can hand out medals for a hit, and a miss just means we gained experience,” he said.
The MND did not withhold information about Chinese ballistic missiles out of concern for civilian morale, it said in a news release later yesterday.
Certain information was not disclosed to maintain secrecy over the military’s intelligence-gathering capabilities, it said, adding that sirens were unnecessary as the missiles did not pose a threat.
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