Air Defense: Taiwan Forced To Improvise


May 1, 2016: Taiwan, faced with the fact that China has over 1,400 ballistic missiles aimed at their military installations, are resigned to the likelihood that in wartime most of these missiles would get through and most Taiwanese fighter aircraft would be destroyed and their airbases rendered inoperable. One proposed solution to this is spending more on mobile anti-aircraft systems and less on new fighters. The advantage of this is that it does not depend on the increasing reluctance of the U.S. to sell Taiwan the most modern jet fighters, or any jet fighters at all. China has been waging a massive (and successful) diplomatic and lobbying campaign in the United States to muster opposition to sales of modern jet fighters to Taiwan. This has made Taiwanese defense officials receptive to proposals that Taiwan develop and build new mobile systems based on ground launched Sidewinder and AMRAAM air-to-air missiles. This has already been done successfully by several countries and is well within Taiwanese capabilities. These systems would use truck mounted launchers (each with up to fifteen launch containers for heat seeking or radar guided missiles) and equally mobile radar systems. A battery of these missiles would consist of one radar vehicle and three or more launcher vehicles. Dozens of these batteries can be hidden all over the country, including existing caves used for military equipment storage, and quickly deployed when needed. These systems would make the air space over Taiwan very dangerous for Chinese aircraft and be much more difficult to find and destroy. The U.S. is developing a similar system called IFPC-2.

Taiwan has, for the last few decades, been moving in this direction by designing and building world class missile systems. For example in 2014 Taiwan announced that it was retiring its 19 Hawk anti-aircraft missile batteries (and over 900 Hawk missiles) and replacing them with the locally developed Sky Bow II system. For many countries, modern versions of Hawk get the job done for local threats and is an affordable (less than $300,000 per missile) solution for air-defense needs. But as the Chinese improve their ECM (Electronic Countermeasures), especially the ECM carried by their most modern fighters and bombers, Hawk has become less of an obstacle. Sky Bow II, using a lot of licensed American technology has much better electronics and the missile weighs 1.2 tons and has a range of over 150 kilometers.

There is also an anti-ballistic missile version (Sky Bow III) that entered service recently. While there is a mobile version of Sky Bow II, many of the missiles are launched from underground silos, which are much better protected from attack. The mobile version uses a box like launcher containing four missiles in sealed containers. There is a radar and control system (in a truck or underground) for every four to eight launchers. Sky Bow I and II were introduced in the 1990s and Sky Bow I is being replaced by Sky Bow II.

Each Hawk battery has six towed launchers each carrying three of the 590 kg (1,290 pound) Hawk missiles plus a radar, control center and maintenance vehicles. In the last 60 year over 40,000 Hawk missiles were produced and bought by the nearly 30 countries that used (or still use) Hawk. While Hawk has been upgraded since it entered service in 1959, some countries have gone beyond that.


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