Taiwan missiles 'miss targets'
President disappointed as several missiles miss their targets in major military exercise.
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2011 08:18 GMT
Questions have been raised regarding the readiness of Taiwan's military against regional threats [File: Reuters]

Taiwan's military has test fired 19 surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles, but a quarter of them missed their targets, raising questions about Taiwan's readiness to defend itself against a possible Chinese attack.

The exercise followed last week's successful test flight of China's next generation J-20 stealth aircraft, a system expected to further widen its growing edge over Taiwan's own equipment-starved air force.

Ma Ying-jeou, the president, visited the base in the country's south on Tuesday, to demonstrate his commitment to the maintenance of an effective Taiwanese deterrent, but the poor performance disappointed him.

"I'm not satisfied with the results," he told reporters when the test was concluded.

"I hope the military will find out the reasons and improve its training."

The missile test was the first to be held in full view of the press for almost a decade.

According to Ma, it was meant "to bring more transparency into military affairs and allow the public to view the military's readiness".

But five of the missiles failed to hit their targets, including one RIM-7M Sparrow, which cascaded into the South China Sea less than 30 seconds after launch.

Other missiles tested included the Sky Bow II, which have a range of 200km, MIM-23 Hawks and FIM-92 Stingers.

War 'less likely'

Following China's well-publicised test of the J-20 last week, the normally pro-government United Daily newspaper questioned Ma's policy of shifting the military's main mission away from national defence and toward disaster relief, commenting that "the more important mission for the military is to defend (Taiwan) against threats".

The shift in military priorities, unveiled in the immediate wake of a devastating typhoon in August 2009, reflects Ma's belief that his continuing efforts to lower tensions with China - the main theme of his administration - make war across the 160km wide Taiwan Strait less likely than ever before.

The two sides split during civil war in 1949, and since then Beijing has reserved the right to invade the island of 23 million people if it moves to make its de facto independence permanent - a move Ma has said he opposes.

Wang Kao-cheng, a defence expert at Tamkang University in Taipei, told the Associated Press news agency that one purpose of Tuesday's missile test may have been to encourage the US to sell Taiwan the 66 relatively advanced F-16 jet fighters that top its military wishlist.

Washington says it is considering the request, but continued Chinese opposition to the deal has delayed its implementation for more than two years.

"The Taiwan government may be using this exercise to send a message to the US that its air defence is facing mounting pressure as China continues to develop the new generation of fighter jets," Wang said.

Taiwanese military analysts also say the main function of the missiles tested on Tuesday is to deter Chinese aircraft from entering the island's self-proclaimed defence zone on the eastern side of the north-south median line dividing the Taiwan Strait.

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