Taiwan set for military exercises, coinciding with Chinese, US drills
TAINAN, Taiwan (AFP) Jul 20, 2004
Taiwan is to practice its first air force freeway landings in 26 years, to be followed by upscale wargames, coinciding with Chinese military maneuvers simulating an invasion of the island, officials and newspapers said Tuesday.

Workers hired by the military used cranes to remove hundreds of make-shift concrete blocs separating traffic lanes on a freeway in Tainan, southern Taiwan, making way for the landings of two French-made Mirage 2000-5 fighters.

The two fighter jets will land, refuel and load ammunition on the road early Wednesday.

The exercise is designed to "review the air force's capability in using freeways for emergency landings and logistic support in case of war," defense ministry spokesman Huang Suey-sheng told reporters.

Following the drill, Taiwan's defense ministry is to stage the third stage of "Han Kuang 20," the biggest annual military drills, in the southern county of Pingtung on August 25, where Taiwanese armed forces would flex their muscle, the Chinese-language China Times said.

"The air force for the first time will fire AIM-120 air-to-air missiles the United States delivered to Taiwan last year," it said, without citing its sources.

Taiwan purchased 120 medium-range AIM-120 missiles after China acquired Russian-made air-to-air AA-12 missiles in June 2002. The AIM-120s, with a range of 50 kilometers (30 miles), are used to arm Taiwan's fleet of F-16 fighters.

The defense ministry declined to comment on the report.

The China Times said the scheduled wargames on Dongshan Island by the People's Liberation Army -- an island in southeastern China's Fujian province, just 150 nautical miles west of Taiwan's Penghu Island -- has been postponed to August, enabling it to coincide with Taiwan's Han Kuang exercise.

Making the drills more sensitive will be a string of wargames to be staged in the Pacific by the United States and its allies, the paper said.

The cable television TVBS said a Taiwanese naval fleet will "practice" off eastern Taiwan Wednesday while the US carrier USS Kitty Hawk cruised to waters off the island.

Taiwan's defense ministry rejected the reports, alleging "they have no connection."

The Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao newspaper said China has said it would use the joint sea, land and air drills to demonstrate its ability to dominate air space over Taiwan, an essential element in any invasion.

Previous state media reports have said practically all the advanced weaponry China possesses would be used in the exercise, including Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jets purchased from Russia.

Nuclear-powered submarines, warships, the latest model missile destroyers and a guided missile brigade would also reportedly be involved.