EXERCISE HAN KUANG 27 IN TAIWAN

Its landing lights on and undercarriage lowered, the grey-coloured F-16B fighter swooped through the dawn haze. The powerful jet engine screamed as the aircraft gently touched down on the tarmac. After it had slowed to a stop, another fighter followed…and then another…until six fighters had pulled up in a tidy line on the macadam. However, this was no ordinary runway tarmac, for it was a stretch of highway on Taiwan’s western coast. Refuelling trucks and munitions carriers converged on the aircraft emblazoned with the roundel of the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF).

8th Jun 2011


 Taiwan

 EXERCISE HAN KUANG 27 IN TAIWAN

 Gordon Arthur / Taipei


Its landing lights on and undercarriage lowered, the grey-coloured F-16B fighter swooped through the dawn haze. The powerful jet engine screamed as the aircraft gently touched down on the tarmac. After it had slowed to a stop, another fighter followed…and then another…until six fighters had pulled up in a tidy line on the macadam. However, this was no ordinary runway tarmac, for it was a stretch of highway on Taiwan’s western coast. Refuelling trucks and munitions carriers converged on the aircraft emblazoned with the roundel of the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF).

Uniformed personnel bustled about rearming and refuelling the F-16A Block 20, Mirage 2000-5Di and F-CK-1 fighters, while nearby Tien Kung (“Sky Bow”) surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries were on alert as they watched their radar screens. Overhead, a tandem-rotor Chinook CH-47SD thumped its way to the landing zone and deposited an under-slung pallet of essential supplies. Meanwhile, an OH-58D Kiowa and AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter belonging to the ROC Army (ROCA) circled lazily in the sky on over-watch duties. Finally, one by one the fully loaded fighters raced along the highway near Madou and soared into the sky to continue their missions…

Involving 1,300 personnel, this was just one episode in the recently held Han Kuang 27 exercise on the island of Taiwan. Held from 11-15 April 2011, Han Kuang (which translates as “Han [a Chinese dynasty] Glory”) is an annual spring exercise conducted by the ROC Armed Forces, and this year Defence Review Asia was in attendance. The remarkable thing about Han Kuang is that almost the entire ROC Armed Forces mobilise around the island in scenarios requiring them to defend against an attack by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Furthermore, much of the exercise is conducted in public areas rather than in restricted military training grounds.

Strategic defence
This year saw much of the activity centred on the Taichung area. Taichung, a port city midway down the western coast, is of strategic importance. With its extensive port facilities, it would make an inviting target for any invading People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attack. From Taichung, the PLA could drive north towards the capital Taipei. Alternatively, the force could strike south to capture Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second-largest city. A third option also presents itself, with the invader striking straight across the island to split it in two. For the past two years Han Kuang has revolved around repelling an invasion of Taichung, suggesting that Taiwan has received intelligence that this is a likely scenario in the case of war with China. (KYM TO TASHA, BPS)

Along parts of the Taichung coast, obstacles such as razor wire and antitank obstacles were laid out by combat engineers to produce scenes reminiscent of Normandy on D-Day. The Dajia River flows north of Taichung, and as part of an amphibious assault, enemy forces using hovercraft could exploit this river valley. China is reportedly seeking to buy 555-ton Zubr-class hovercraft or related technology from Ukraine. Interestingly, the practice of the opposing force (OPFOR) being termed the “red force” is entirely appropriate for the Taiwanese context, with this force representing communist China.

On 11 April, an anti-airborne event was held at Ching-Chun-Kang (CCK) Airbase in Taichung. Taiwan’s largest airbase is home to many Indigenous Defence Fighters (IDF), and the PLA could attack it using Special Forces and airborne troops. Thus, defensive troops repelled a simulated airborne attack and blocked runways to deny its use by enemy aircraft.

Another threat taken very seriously is a strike against Taipei. The capture of the capital would “decapitate” the political and military leadership. Indeed, Han Kuang 27 opened with a defensive action against a simulated attack up the Danshui River. Weapons such as M41 tanks were emplaced along the riverbanks to defend against a riverine assault. Usually Han Kuang exercises revolve around the defence of the capital.

The ROCAF and Navy (ROCN) are increasingly being prioritised as part of Taiwan’s offshore engagement strategy. These forces are required to keep the PLA at arm’s length and to prevent Chinese troops from reaching Taiwanese shores. Faced with improved PLA Air Force (PLAAF) assets such as J-10 and J-11 fighters, it is imperative that the ROCAF improve its air defence capability. While Taipei would indeed like to purchase 66 F-16C/D fighters, the USA is unwilling to sell them.

Another critical weapon for Taiwan’s air defence umbrella is the Patriot missile system. Three existing PAC-2 batteries are being upgraded, while Taiwan will also acquire seven new PAC-3 batteries. As part of an enormous arms package notified to the US Congress in October 2008, Taiwan is acquiring 30 AH-64D Apache Longbow Block III helicopters and four upgraded E-2C Hawkeye 2000 aircraft too. This year, the first of twelve P-3C Orion aircraft being upgraded by Lockheed Martin will enter service to boost Taiwan’s submarine-tracking capability.

Command and control
The high-tech Heng Shan Military Command Centre is located deep inside a mountain in a Taipei suburb. This key facility is connected to military units all across Taiwan by telephone, fibre-optic, satellite and wireless communication networks. Taiwan’s Po Sheng (“Broad Victory”) command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) network is designed with built-in redundancies so that it can still perform after being devastated by Chinese attacks. Phase I of the expensive project was completed in December 2009, and Phase II will see warships and F-16s fitted with Link 16 terminals. This system is supplied by the USA, and it is designed to plug seamlessly into US systems in a time of crisis.

Unfortunately, part of the C4I platform may have been compromised by espionage. Major General Lo Hsien-che was arrested in late January on charges of spying for the mainland in what was reported to be the worst case of military espionage in nearly 50 years of cross-strait tensions.

Taiwan maintains a sophisticated series of coastal watch stations, as well as an underwater sonar system. These stations, plus ROCN vessels, keep a constant vigil on the Taiwan Strait, with such surveillance and intelligence measures being vital in Taiwan’s state of readiness for a surprise attack by China.

Mobility and concealment
An important element in Taiwan’s defensive plans is the mobility of its forces and equipment. It is imperative that troops be able to move rapidly around the island to meet airborne and amphibious threats, something possible thanks to a well-developed road network. Thus, on 12 April, the 269th Mechanised Infantry Brigade based in Taoyuan west of Taipei mobilised for an overnight tactical march. The entire brigade was despatched to the coast near Taichung, moving in convoys of Humvees and trucks that employed standard operating procedures (SOP). Tracked vehicles such as M113s and CM-21s were despatched on dozens of requisitioned civilian trucks.

This need for speed and mobility explains why the new CM-32 Yunpao 8x8 armoured vehicle is so important to the future of the ROCA. These wheeled vehicles with improved road mobility are destined to eventually replace tracked M113 and CM-21 vehicles.

As soon as the Han Kuang 27 exercise commenced, units moved to pre-designated areas such as schools or municipal buildings to set up command posts. Similarly, artillery and air defence units took up positions on high ground or in locations overlooking key facilities such as airbases.

Mobility is not confined to ground units either. In a first strike by the PLA, many military facilities would be wiped out by waves of missiles. Cognizant of the fact that one of the first targets would be airbases, aircraft from western airfields would be flown to the east coast. From underground and hardened shelters, these aircraft could then conduct counter-strike missions. The secretive Jiashan facility adjacent to Hualien Airbase is the largest such underground base in Taiwan.

The aforementioned fighter operation from a highway was only the third time that such an event has occurred during Han Kuang. This is an important tactic at the disposal of the ROCAF, for with airbases out of action and runways damaged, fighters can utilise highways for landings and takeoffs.

Commentators have questioned how long Taiwan would be able to resist full-scale aggression by the PLA, with some suggesting two weeks would be a generous allowance. The MND has stated it could fight for at least a month, which would be sufficient for US forces to swing into action. To contribute to its survival, Taiwan has an extensive network of underground facilities that has been improved and extended over the years. Such sites are well protected against missiles and bombs, and they would enable Taiwanese forces to continue to fight. While China might create bridgeheads and capture territory, the Taiwanese military would stage a fighting withdrawal as it pulled back into the mountains and to bases along the eastern coast.

Tactical movement is one aspect of Taiwan’s wartime survival, and an equally important one is the concealment of troops from enemy reconnaissance. The MND rightly predicts that military bases would be the first victims of Chinese attacks, and so a network of non-military buildings and hidden facilities are available as staging areas for troops prior to launching counteroffensives.

Reshaping the force structure
Taiwan continues to employ conscription, with 18-year-old males required to complete twelve months of military service, which it would like to abolish by 2014. However, this plan seems unlikely to materialise as the defence budget does not provide enough money to pay for a volunteer force. This year’s budget was USD10.27 billion, which compares with the USD91.5 billion that China is spending. Taiwan’s 2008 defence budget was NT$343 billion, which decreased to NT$318.6 billion in 2009, and to NT$297.4 billion last year. The current budget represents 2.14% of GDP, well below the 3% promised by President Ma Ying-jeou in his presidential campaign. As part of this professionalising process, the ROC Armed Forces will contract from the current 275,000 personnel to 215,000 by 2014.

 

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