Taiwan holds biggest Spratly islands drill in 15 years

Military Capabilities
29 April 2014

A comparison of satellite imagery of Taiping Island dated 10 March and 18 April 2014 shows construction on a breakwater on the island’s southwest coast. (© CNES 2014, Distribution Astrium Services / Spot Image S.A. / IHS)

The Republic of China Marine Corps (RoCMC) conducted an amphibious landing drill on the South China Sea island of Taiping (Itu Aba) on 10 April, a Taiwanese lawmaker revealed on 28 April.

The drill was the largest military exercise held by Taiwan’s armed forces in the disputed Spratly islands for 15 years.

According to lawmaker Lin Yu-fang of the ruling Kuomintang, personnel from two RoCMC companies conducted amphibious landing drills that simulated retaking the island after it was occupied by invading forces.

Speaking at a meeting of the legislative Yuan’s Foreign Affairs and National Defence Committee, of which he is a member, Lin said more than 20 assault vehicles landed on Taiping after being transported to the area by RoC Navy (RoCN) vessels.

The RoCN force comprised seven Lafayette-class and Cheng Kung-class frigates as well as tank landing ships (according to IHS Jane’s World Navies , the RoCN has two Newport-class tank landing ships in service). The exercise was streamed live to the RoCN’s Command Headquarters in Taipei.

Although the Ministry of National Defense (MND) confirmed the exercise had taken place, it gave no further details.

Taiwan withdrew a contingent of marines from Taiping Island in 1999 and since then has garrisoned Coast Guard Administration (CGA) personnel on the island. There is currently a 130-strong CGA detachment on Taiping, which is the largest of the resource-rich Spratly islands.

The CGA force received additional weapons systems in August 2012 in the form of eight sets of 40 mm anti-aircraft guns, an unspecified number of 120 mm mortars, and AT4 shoulder-launched light anti-tank weapons. Satellite imagery analysis by IHS Jane’s has also shown a number of fortifications spread along the island’s coast.

The CGA is also planning construction of a new wharf on the island capable of handling 2,000-ton frigates. Airbus Defence and Space satellite imagery dated 10 March and 18 April analysed by IHS Jane’s shows the building of a breakwater off the island’s southwest corner that may be one element of the wharf. The imagery also shows the construction of a new building close to the island’s north coast that was not visible in 2013.

Taiping Island also has a 1,150 m-long and 30 m-wide runway, which was completed in early 2008. The CGA announced in 2013 that the MND was considering expanding the runway, but no information has been released since then and satellite imagery shows no construction under way.

Meanwhile, the MND said on 26 April that the black box of an Army Aviation Special Forces Command AH-64E Apache attack helicopter that crashed into a residential building in Taoyuan County, northern Taiwan, during a routine training mission on 25 April had been retrieved.

Defence officials say the flight recorder will be sent to the United States for analysis by original equipment manufacturer Boeing.

The RoC Army has grounded its fleet of AH-64Es pending completion of the investigation into the accident. The MND said a final report on the crash will be made public within 45 days.

(498 words)
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