Note: Completely amateur web based research. Illustrations by me unless otherwise stated. Because of the research nature, there may be inaccuracies in some details or views. Feedback and corrections very welcome. I’d particularly like to thank Sean O’Connor and certain unnamed individuals for sharing their excellent knowledge and analysis. This essay hopefully complements Sean’s research piece HERE.
I understand that some readers may be uncomfortable with the degree of detail in certain aspects of this essay. I must stress that this is public-source info that pales into insignificance against what mainland China must know already. This amounts to just joining the dots and applying some guesswork to fill the gaps. For an equivalent piece on Chinese air defences go HERE
SCOPE: This is not exhaustive. I’ll concentrate on Taiwan’s air defences. A Taiwan-China matchup and scenario analysis may follow in a separate piece. At the moment Taiwan-China relations are on a relatively stable footing but the pendulum swings every few years as politicians come and go; China remains a very real threat in the eyes of many in Taiwanese military and observers abroad.
1. Long Range SAMs 1.1 Patriot 1.2 Tien Kung 1.3 Tien Kung III 1.4 Hawk
2. ROCAF Short range SAMs 2.1 Skyguard 2.2 Antelope 2.3 Antelope future state 2.4 Other
3. ROC Army/Marines air defences 3.1 Avenger 3.2 Chaparral 3.3 Dual mount Stinger
1.1 Patriot Taiwan purchased three batteries of PAC-2 Patriot in the 1990s. These have been upgraded to PAC-2GEM/T standard and are being further upgraded to PAC-3 standard which involves various sensor and command enhancements and the inclusion of the PAC-3 missile for anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) defence. The PAC-3 system retains the enhanced long range PAC-2GEM/T missiles to engage aircraft. An additional 3-4 batteries of PAC-3 standard Patriot are also reportedly being purchased. Even today the PAC-2GEM system provides modest ABM defence for Taipei.
There are four known fixed sites although only three batteries are in service and all are deployed defending the capital Taipei:
Although the above image is valid as the theoretical coverage of the Patriot system, in reality the LPARs are deployed facing predetermined directions and the engagement zoine of the system is best seen as a 120 degree wedge. In the below image Sean O’Conner has mapped these wedges on Google Earth:
The PAC-3 missile is a lot smaller than the older Patriots which allows 4 missiles to be carried in a single ‘can’, i.e. 16 per launcher instead of 4. With the PAC-3s deployed at existing Patriot sites, Taipei’s air defences look like this:
Patriot Sites on Google Earth
And finally the unoccupied site. This was possibly built in anticipation of more Patriot batteries, or as an alternative location of one of them. It is probable that Patriot and/or Tien Kung units deploy through here and that one of the new Patriot batteries will occupy the site. Sean O’Connor has deduced that this was once a Nike SAM site. The Nike system was decommissioned in the mid 1990s.
1.2 Tien Kung SAM The Tien Kung system was developed by Taiwan with US assistance. The system closely resembles and is comparable to, if generally inferior to, Patriot. Nonetheless this is a highly capable system.
Initially Tien Kung was developed in two versions. The first, Tien Kung I had a 70km range and used semi-active radar guidance. The second type, which took longer to develop used an active radar terminal guidance and was fitted with a booster for extend range, of about 160km. The two stage missile was launched from an elevating single round platform launcher:
Both versions used the very modern Chang Bei phased array radar built with assistance of Locheed Martin and approximating the AN/MPQ-53 radar of the Patriot system. Tien Kung I used a continuous wave illumination radar for guidance similar to Hawk. Unusually for a modern SAM system Tien Kung is deployed in hardened underground silos to improve survivability against the mainland Chinese air force (PLAAF). As China develops ever more accurate bombs and ballistic missiles these sites become less survivable however. The underground complex is perhaps a hang-over from the Nike missile system Taiwan used, and Tien Kung I could fairly be described as a mix of Nike, Hawk and Patriot influences.
The Tien Kung system underwent a protracted development during which time US exported better solid-fuel rocket technology to Taiwan allowing far better motors to be used. For Tien Kung I this meant extending the range to 100km but for Tien Kung II this means getting rids of the twin-stage approach and yet still achieving an impressive 200km range, exceeding even the patriot. The resulting Tien Kung II missile is only slightly longer than Tien Kung I and can use the same mobile launchers which closely resemble those of the Patriot:
Tien Kung I mobile launcher being shown to the public:
There are 6 fixed sites, reportedly with Tien Kung II missiles although it appears probable that some Tien Kung I rounds are also employed. The fixed sites provide substantial coverage. Theoretical ranges: As per the Patriot the circular engagement zones are somewhat unrealistic, especially given that the fixed Tien Kung’s ‘Chang Bei’ radars are mounted on the sides of cliffs giving a truly fixed field of view. Like the Patriot’s radar the ChangBei can scan 120 degrees (ie. 60 degrees left of facing, 60 right). Because we know the exact locations of these radars and their direction of facing we can construct this relatively accurate map of engagement zones. Again this is provided thanks to Sean O’Connor: Note that Sean has not included the northern battery on Dongyin islands due to lack of imagery. The Dongyin battery is reportedly twice as large as the mainland sites suggesting about 160 SAMs, and has at least two Chang Bei radars. Some of those SAMs may have been converted into surface-surface missiles but I’ll save that for another Bluffer’s guide.
Index of Tien Kung fixed sites: 1. Launch Site: 24.162652°, 120.570064° CLICK HERE 1. Radar: 24.151087°, 120.572159° CLICK HERE 2. Launch Site: 23.665208°, 119.556592° CLICK HERE 2. Radar: 23.673099°, 119.580772° CLICK HERE 3. Launch Site: 22.853564°, 120.319457° CLICK HERE 3. Radar: 22.855944°, 120.344672° CLICK HERE 4. Launch Site: 22.514889°, 120.367083° CLICK HERE 4. Radar: 22.528169°, 120.377637° CLICK HERE 5. Launch Site: 25.234794°, 121.450850° CLICK HERE 5. Radar: 25.234124°, 121.491402° CLICK HERE 6. Exact location TBC: 26.368308°, 120.488974° CLICK HERE
Example Fixed site (courtesy Sean O’Connor) and radar:
1.3 Tien Kung III
The third version of Tien Kung is based on the Tien Kung II but with enhanced anti-ballistic missile capability. Tien Kung II is already credited with an ABM capability similar to Patriot PAC-3GEM but the TK-III will be closer in capability to PAC-3. It is not clear of the future of this system given US’ agreement to supply Patriot PAC-3 missiles but it if it enters service it will provide Tien-Kung batteries with a multi-tier integrated response capability. Tien Kung III was also shown on a new launcher although the overall layout is very similar to the Tien Kung and patriot systems with a slant-launch quadruple box on a turntable mounted on a towed trailer. One curious aspect of TK-III is that the airframe is the same as the 200km TK-II missile, so relative to PAC-3 this system may have far greater range and/or altitude engagements of equivalent incoming targets.
Now the oldest SAM system in ROCAF service, the Hawk remains a credible defence against most PLAAF aircraft and constitutes a second line of defence behind the longer ranged and more potent Patriots and Tien Kung SAM systems.
Taiwan has 13 fixed site Hawk batteries covering the western side of the main Island and Penghu island offshore: Some of these may be replaced by Patriot and Tien Kung SAM systems in the near future but Hawk is likely to remain a key component of ROCAF air defences for some time.
2. ROCAF Short Range Air Defence (SHORAD) The air force (ROCAF) operates several systems as point defence of air bases. The main system is Skyguard although this is to be replaced by the more capable indigenous Antelope system.
The Swiss developed Oerlikon-Contraves (now Rheinmetall) Skyguard system is an integrated air defence system synonymous with the 4km range Oerlikon GDF series twin 35mm anti-aircraft gun. Like several other countries Taiwan also adds SAMs to the mix in the form of the US developed Sparrow SAM which has a range of about 18km. The Sparrow is basically the same as the air-launched Sparrow missile but with folding fins and, due to its ground launch and weaker radars, a significantly shorter range. Although the 35mm guns are still very potent, the version of Skyguard operated is essentially a 1980s system which is also operated by Taiwan’s prime adversary, mainland China. That being said, even as late as 2002 new Skyguard positions were still being built.
Skyguard is a fully mobile system but is commonly deployed in prepared positions with elevated radar and firing positions. Most sites have two firing positions (verses the theoretical maximum of four) although several sites have a third larger firing position further away, seemingly specifically for Sparrow. These third launch positions have a larger pad than the regular firing positions although Sparrow can operate from the standard pad. It is probable that these third launch pads were added on later and that Sparrow is often deployed on non-elevated positions because the engagement characteristics of the missile do not require the elevated position in most scenarios. Although the Sparrow has a range of about 18km initial engagement is likely limited to about 15km if Skyguard’s tracking radar is relied upon. Each Sparrow launcher does have its own illumination radar to guide the missile, four of which are carried per mount. Sparrow is essentially a 1970s SAM system and is increasingly obsolete.
The Antelope system is based on the Skyguard but integrates locally produced weapons, primarily the Singaporean designed AOS L-70 40mm AAA gun and Tien Chien I infra-red guided missile. An across-the-board upgrade over the Skyguard, Antelope has greater detection ranges and can control twice as many fire units. Antelope uses the CS/MPQ-78 radar which is almost identical in appearance to the Skyguard, combining a search radar with a fire control radar and IR/Laser tracking and range finding equipment. Initial test units used a towed trailer almost identical to that of Skyguard but more recent units use a stand-alone radar which can be dismounted from a truck.
The AOS L-70 uses the Bofor’s L-70 40mm AAA as the basis but has much more modern fire control with an on-mount EO sight. The gun itself is similar in performance to the Oerlikon 35mm AAA already in use for Skyguard.
The Tien Chien I is an infra-red guided missile similar in appearance and capability to AIM-9P/L model Sidewinders. Although similar in concept to the Chaparral system, Tien Chien is a quantum leap in lethality over that system. Although Tien Chien I is significantly shorter ranged than Sparrow it is all the same a lethality improvement and its fire-and-forget nature allows simpler crew operation.
Early test units of Tien Chien are usually photographed on the back of a Hummer but production units use a light truck. This is possibly due to the limited supply of Hummers for the air force.
Taiwan is working on more advanced components for the Antelope system although reliable reports of progress are limited and operational deployment is likely to be years away. The main enhancements are likely to be: 1. Use of a phased array radar, probably MPQ-90 to greatly improve detection and tracking range, and number of simultaneous engagements 2. Integration of the SAM version of the Tien Chien II active-radar missile. This is generally equivalent to surface launcher AMRAAM. Range is often quoted as 40km but I think 20km is more plausible. This will also make Antelope a potential replacement for the Hawks which are being withdrawn. 3. Control of twice as many fire units (16). 4. Integration of the army’s Avenger SAM system which uses Stinger missiles.
2.4 Other ROCAF SHORAD
In addition to Skyguard and Antelope, ROCAF deploys a large number of AAA, mainly 40mm Bofors and the indigenous T-82 20mm AAA. It is probable that some WW2 era quad .50 cal machine gun mounts also remain although these were to be replaced by the T-82s.
ROCAF also converted some Vulcan 20mm gatling guns from retired F-104 Starfighter jets into AAA but these are not reported to be in active service. The exact number available is unlikely to be very many but could theoretically be as many as 250 if every available F-104 plus spare gun were cannibalized. The gun mount does not appear to have any sophisticated aiming devices and can be regarded as an inferior brother to the standard M168 Vulcan AAA which is itself obsolete. The gun is nonetheless an awesome piece of kit:
A common theme is the placement of AAA on rooftops. Most of the buildings used have an access ramp which in some cases may allow medium guns like L-70 40mm and Oerlikon 35mm to be mounted, but light AAA like the T-82 is probably more common. Where medium AAA can be found outside of the Skyguard sites, it tends to be in batteries of 4 or 6 whereas the rooftop positions tend to be just two. Systems often appear mixed, in part because of the peacetime deployment and training needs of ROCAF air defence units. Some sites also appear to have Tien Chien I units but this is almost impossible to confirm on Google Earth at this time. [img]http://i44.tinypic.com/118fxqg.jpg img]
We won’t exhaustively show all AAA sites we’ve found on Google Earth but here are a handful:
3. ROC Army/Marines air defences
All medium and long range air defences are now under control of the Air Force. The ROC army does maintain point air defences in common with armies the world over. The main systems are Chaparral and Stinger.
3.1 Avenger The Avenger system was developed by US to replace the Chaparral and can be described as two quad-packs of Stinger missiles and a .50cal machine gun as backup, mounted on the back of a Hummer. The gunner sits between the missiles peering through a sloping windshield much like on the equivalent Russian SA-13 Gopher system. Stinger has a range of about 10km although typical engagements will be far shorter.
Taiwanese officials confirmed that Avenger is deployed around Taipei to defend the city. This is surprising area air-defence is more typically the role of the air force who deploy Patriot and Tien Kung SAMs around Taipei, plus Hawk and Skyguard with AAA. Avenger is a formidable system in its own right but it is wholly unsuited to defending a city against likely means off attack. One explanation may be that Avenger is not deployed to defend against Chinese military attack but against terrorist attack by means of hijacked jets although the Patriot and other ROCAF defences already more than adequately cover that. An alternative interpretation may be that the army is playing a political game and wants the positive press/influence of being seen to be defending the capital against air attack.
3.2 Chaparral Chaparral is a 1970s US system based on the AIM-9 Sidewinder with a range of about 6km. Sighting, situational awareness and reaction time are relatively primitive and the system is of limited use against fast jet targets. Like US, ROC has adopted the famous Stinger short range SAM to replace Chaparral. Chaparral remains in service and in 2002 the ‘J’ model missile was integrated, along with the Lockheed Martin’s LAADS (Low Altitude Air Defense System) radar.
3.3 Dual Mount Stinger Taiwan adopted a twin Stinger pedestal mount. This can be placed on the ground, or in the back of a truck and offers greater readiness than standard shoulder-launched deployments of the same missile.
ROCAF operates a large fleet of over 380 fast jet fighters backed up by AEW aircraft. That’s comparable to ‘major’ European air forces and the aircraft are of a generally similar standard. There are four main fighter types in service and it’s hard to say which is the premier type – they all have their merits.
These are deployed at a number of air bases:
4.1 Mirage-2000-5 An impressive French designed fighter this is deployed mainly as an ‘interceptor’ – i.e. a fast reaction air combat type which emphasizes long range interception of inbound threats and engagement beyond visual range. For this it can carry four MICA-EM active radar guided missiles. These are generally equivalent to the AMRAAM but trade range for agility and are generally more lethal at dog fighting ranges also. These are complemented by the Matra Magic-II infrared guided missile. The Mirages are based at Hsinchu on the East of the island. 24.818056°, 120.939515° CLICK HERE
There are rumours of retiring the Mirages, either on the pretext of unnecessary expense, or because France is not a trusted arms supplier (a sentiment somewhat justified after the ROC frigate scandal). Doing so would be militarily irresponsible however as the Mirages are arguably the most capable fighters in ROCAF service and have many years of credible service ahead of them.
4.2 F-16A/B Fighting Falcon Taiwan’s F-16s have recently received AMRAAM missiles vastly increasing their lethality. The type is based at Chiai in the East of the island and Hualien in the West. Chiai: 23.461669°, 120.392764° CLICK HERE
4.3 F-CK-1 Ching Kuo Originally called the IDF (Indigenous Defence Fighter), the F-CK-1 was developed by Taiwan at a time when US had blocked sales of the F-16 and F-20 Tigershark fighters to Taiwan. The type is therefore the local alternative and uses Taiwanese missiles in the form of Tien Chien II active-radar guided missiles, comparable to early models of AMRAAM, and Tien Chien I infrared guided short range missiles comparable to AIM-9L Sidewinder.
A recent upgrade program has added conformal fuel tanks and enhance electronics but is not as extensive as the originally planned upgrade. The new fighter, called F-CK-1C (‘D’ for two-seater),can now carry 4 Tien Chien II missiles in normal combat configuration.
Note: Ching Chuan Kang is widely regarded as ROCAF’s main air base and a large number of combat aircraft can be seen on Google Earth. Many of them are not F-CK-1s but F-5s. Ching Chuan Kang: 24.264590°, 120.625302° CLICK HERE
4.4 F-5E/F Tiger II The oldest fighter type still in service, these are also the least capable and do not have radar guided missiles.
I counted a total 37 F-5s in the open in the latest Google Earth imagery of Taitung: Taitung: 22.789511°, 121.168096° CLICK HERE
5. Radar and electronic warfare network
5.1 Hawkeye The fighter force is supported by a fleet of 6 E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft. Left to right: Mirage 2000, F-16, E-2T Hawkeye, F-CK-1, F-5E.
The first four Hawkeyes were delivered as E-2T standard and the last two in a separate order as ‘Hawkeye 2000’ standard aircraft. The aircraft are based at Pingtung air base along with numbers transport and patrol aircraft. Pingtung: 22.695447°, 120.470209° CLICK HERE <find the E-2 taking off in satellite view.
5.2 Pave Paws Taiwan is reportedly in the process of deploying a “Pave Paws” phased array radar which should be operational later this year. The exact model is not consistently reported but it may be a refurbished ex-US system. The radar will be primarily used for missile early warning and may be integrated to the US’ early warning network. US example: Reported site: 24.497890°, 121.071454° CLICK HERE
5.3 Long Range radar and EW sites The main radar in use is the Lockheed Martin AN/FPS-117 long range L-Band radar which has a 300km range. Taiwan has 7 of these plus 4 road-mobile versions (AN/TPS-117).
Example radar sites: 24.656872°, 120.781975° CLICK HERE
The fixed sites are complemented by mobile radars, both associated with SAM units and part of the high-level air defence network. Noteworthy among the types in service are the AN/TPS-117 (4 units) and AN/TPS-75V.
6. ROCAF in the context of Chinese Air Force (PLAAF)
Whilst the ROCAF is large by world standards, it is much smaller than the PLAAF and Chinese Navy-air force (PLAN-AF). Estimates of Chinese combat jets vary but I estimate (thanks SinoDefence.com!) about 1,000 air-combat types, the vast majority of which would be available in any cross-strait conflict.
True to reputation, many of these aircraft are relatively obsolete, but far fewer than is popularly portrayed. Whereas that may have been true 20 years ago, the current PLAAF is thoroughly modern and has access to over 600 fighters with AMRAAM-class missiles. Even the much demeaned J-8-II Finback fighter now has two mainstay versions with PL-12 (SD-10) BVR missiles and relatively sophisticated avionics. Of course the most famous Chinese jet, the J-10, has also contributed to the drastically narrowing the gap, as have the large number of Flanker variants fielded. These include the new J-11B which is a non-license copy of the Flanker with Chinese avionics and the PL-12 missile in place of the older Russian AA-10s of the Su-27/J-11A.
I do not want to profile the PLAAF in any detail, that is for another Bluffer’s guide some day, but here’s a quick comparison for perspective and context:
Opinion: Whilst Taiwan had enjoyed technological and pilot training advantage over the numerically superior Chinese air forces for many years, this edge has eroded and reversed in recent years with the advent of large numbers of Flankers and J-10 fighters, as well as the almost unnoticed evolution of the underrated J-8-II into a potent modern fighter. With the exception of the F-5s, ROCAF jets are generally a match for most Chinese fighters 1:1, especially with the likely remaining doctrinal/training edge, but when you factor in numbers the equation becomes very one-sided. It’s also notable that whilst ROCAF can generally match the PLAAF in beyond-visual-range combat, it is at a severe disadvantage close-in where it’s lack of HMS weapons would provide the ROCAF pilot with fewer firing opportunities.
Another aspect is that in the wider air-defence picture PLAAF’s fighters are becoming longer ranged (Flanker series is almost unrivalled), and thus better able to approach Taiwan from the flanks or even Eastern side. Whilst Taiwan has 360 degree early warning and fighter intercept capability, it’s also undeniable that the whole network is west-facing across the straight. This emphasis may limit ROCAF in any cross-straight scenario.
This imbalance could be reduced by purchase of more advanced fighters (Rafale, Eurofighter, F-18E etc) but ultimately it’s a losing battle as the number and quality of PLAAF aircraft will only improve as more J-10s and J-11Bs join the fleet. Another redress could be upgrading the ROCAFs short range missiles to the latest western dog-fighting missiles, such as IRIS-T or AIM-9X, or at slightly more cost, an evolved TC-I design with thrust vectoring and latest IIR seeker with HMS.
7. Navy as air defence
The Navy (ROCN) is quite sizable by international standards with 20 frigates and 4 destroyers, plus submarines and numerous corvettes, missile boats and other craft. 16 of the Frigates and the 4 destroyers are equipped with area-air-defence missiles.
I’m going to be deliberately brief on the topic of the ROCN as I may want to do a more in-depth Taiwanese straits scenario based article at some point and ROCN versus PLAN (China’s Navy) would be key to that. So here I am only looking at ROCN from the perspective of the air defences they can provide the island.
The Kidd class destroyers are by far the most potent, armed with 66 165km ranged SM-2 Block IIIA Standard missiles. Although the Kidd class does not poses the AEGIS system, they are nonetheless potent air defence assets. The 16 other area-defence capable frigates are the 8 Oliver Hazard Perry type (about 40 missiles each) and 8 modified Knox class (just 10 missiles each) both of which carry the shorter ranged and far less potent Standard SM-1 missile. This system is verging on obsolescence.
Firstly if we consider the maximum footprint the ROCN could deploy we see that their air defence assets are sufficient to deploy a wall of overlapping missile engagement envelopes completely surrounding the main Island:
That is not how these assets would be deployed if conflict erupted however and the real air defence envelope would be much smaller, perhaps more like this with two major surface groups north and south of the main island poised to counter-attack but staying out of the initial cross-straits missile onslaught, and other groups of Frigates deployed in anti-submarine tasks in the deeper water to the east of the island, or as missile boat ‘leaders’ in the straits: The point of the image is not to discuss ROCN tactics, but simply to illustrate that when you deploy warships closer together you end up covering far less airspace.
Although there is talk of deploying Tien Chien II and Tien Kung II SAMs on ROCN warships neither of these two plans seem to be bearing fruit. Certainly at the time of writing the air defences are still reliant on the older SM-1 and less integrated SM-2 Standard missiles. Taiwan had attempted to purchase AEGIS warships but US managed to get them to buy the less capable but attractively priced Kidds class instead.
now i need to ask you this... it maybe funny, but its bugging me quite awhile, also this is base on really really unconfirmed rumour.
so here goes. ....as we know the comunist china regards taiwan as their own territory...now considering the high density of the SAM site...i heard a rumours that the commie were considering pre empting air base and sam umbrella using tactical nuke (remember since taiwan are considered their own territory they would claim its okay to use nuke inside their own teritory)....ok this is debatable....anyway my question are this below.
would Taiwan build underground airbase? if you a taiwanese military planner where do you think it will built hypothetically.
....he he sorry...like i said its from rumours, but i had to ask.