Saturday, 9 July 2011

Taiwan Missile Test A Big Flop Again And A Huge Embarrassment

It was sold as a demonstration of Taiwan’s high-tech defenses against a rapidly rising China. But Tuesday’s firing of 19 air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles before an audience of top government officials and reporters might end up having another equally important effect for Taiwan: scoring pity points with China hawks in Washington.

That’s because the test was a flop. Six of the missiles missed their targets. One, a Sparrow air-to-air missile, “cascaded harmlessly into the South China Sea less than 30 seconds after launch,” according to the Associated Press.

The country's media had been invited to watch the exercise which was designed to show that Taiwan was capable of defending itself against a possible attack from China.

An embarrassed President Ma told reporters: "I'm not satisfied with the results. I hope the military will find out the reasons and improve its training."

Taiwan's defence ministry on Tuesday confirmed reports that a new supersonic anti-ship missile had missed its target during a routine naval drill, in the latest in a series of setbacks.

Analysts say the Hsiung Feng (Brave Wind) III missile, designed to cruise at a maximum speed of Mach 2.0, or twice the speed of sound, and with a range of up to 130-kilometres, is difficult to defend against.

But the defence ministry said the weapon, the island's first locally developed supersonic anti-ship missile, had failed to hit its objective during the drill due to a computer glitch.

"The ministry will improve on the screening of hardcore facilities... to ensure the quality of the missiles," it said in a statement.

Taiwan started to deploy the Hsiung Feng III on its warships last year in response to China's rapid naval expansion.

But the island's military leaders were left red-faced after two failed missile tests earlier this year that earned rare criticism from President Ma Ying-jeou, who urged the armed forces to practice more.

The Taipei-based China Times said the latest failure was particularly embarrassing for Taiwan's navy, since it "coincided" with Beijing's much-publicised military drills in South China Sea in mid-June.

The missiles are estimated to cost Taiwanese taxpayers at least Tw$100-million ($3.45-million) each, the report said.Ties between China and Taiwan have improved since Ma became the island's president in 2008 on a China-friendly platform.

But China still regards Taiwan as part of its territory waiting to be reunified by force if necessary, although the island has governed itself since 1949 when a civil war ended.

In 2001, Washington agreed to sell Taiwan $6 billion in new weapons, including four destroyers, a dozen P-3 patrol planes and eight submarines. So far, only the destroyers — revamped U.S. Navy models from the ’80s — have been delivered. The planes have been stalled until around 2015. The submarines became such a political hot potato that nobody would agree to build them.

The same thing happened in 2006, when Taiwan requested 66 new F-16 fighters to bulk up its aging, shrinking air force. In principle, Washington agreed to the sale. But politics have indefinitely held up the actual transfer.

The botched missile test could help Taiwan make its case for the new fighters. “The Taiwan government may be using this exercise to send a message to the U.S. that its air defense is facing mounting pressure as China continues to develop the new generation of fighter jets,” Wang Kao-cheng, from Taiwan’s Tamkang University, told the AP.

(source AFP)

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