A record eight Chinese balloons were detected around Taiwan on Friday, with two flying directly over the nation, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said yesterday.
The balloons were spotted on Lunar New Year’s Eve at altitudes of 4,572m to 11,582m, it said.
The first one was seen on Friday morning and the last one early in the evening, the ministry said in its daily report on Chinese military activities.
Photo courtesy of the Ministry of National Defense
Two crossed the northern part of Taiwan, a map provided by the ministry showed. The others approached the coast before vanishing, although one flew over the sea to the north of Taiwan.
The Chinese government has repeatedly brushed off Taiwanese concerns about the balloons, saying they are weather balloons and should not be hyped up for political reasons.
The potential for China to use balloons for spying became a global issue in February last year when the US shot down what it said was a Chinese surveillance balloon.
Photo courtesy of the Military News Agency
Beijing said the balloon was a civilian aircraft that accidentally drifted astray.
China has ramped up military pressure against Taiwan in recent years, deploying warplanes and naval vessels on a nearly daily basis.
Since the presidential and legislative elections on Jan. 13, the largest Chinese incursions included 33 Chinese warplanes detected around Taiwan.
The largest number of warplanes China has sent during a 24-hour window came in September last year, when Taiwan recorded 103 Chinese aircraft around the nation.
Despite the Lunar New Year holiday, Taiwan’s air force remains on high alert, and its fighter jets and anti-air missiles are ready for deployment at a moment’s notice to defend the nation, the state-run Military News Agency said in a report yesterday.
The report highlighted the role of the defensive wing of fighters assigned to Penghu, known as taskforce Tian Jyu (天駒), or “Sky Stallion.”
The task force is on round-the-clock alert to scramble fighter jets and intercept foreign incursions, the report said.
The task force must be combat-ready when it takes off from Penghu, a First Tactical Fighter Wing major surnamed Wu (吳) was quoted as saying.
“Every second counts for the air force,” he said.
The distance from Magong Air Force Base to the median line of the Taiwan Strait is very short, putting pilots under tremendous pressure as they have very little time to prepare when needed, Wu said.
Still, the pilots are trained to handle such situations and are ready to deal with all types of harassment tactics, enabling them to keep calm and observe procedure and protocol when intercepting jets from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force, Wu said.
The median line serves as an unofficial barrier between Taiwan and China which Chinese planes now regularly fly over.
The units operating the anti-air batteries are also on alert throughout the Lunar New Year holiday, Wu said, adding that these units have been drilled and know where to go and prime the Tien Kung (天弓), or “Sky Bow,” anti-air missiles for possible launch.
The anti-air missile unit’s deputy commander, a Technical Sergeant surnamed Chang (張), said he had witnessed many challenges during his time with the military and has come to understand that serving in the military involves sacrifice.
The anti-air units carry out regular training and maintenance and are on the alert for any possible situation, he said.
He also thanked his family for their understanding and support, as “there are no holidays for the anti-air units.”
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