Taiwan mulls deploying airships to outlying islands

Dirigibles to boost island country’s surveillance system as China flexes military muscles

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Aerostats (Facebook, TCOM LP photo)

Aerostats (Facebook, TCOM LP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan is considering plans to deploy military dirigibles to offshore islands against the backdrop of the Chinese People's Liberation Army's (PLA) intensifying air and naval activities.

Lighter-than-air aircraft could be used for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes on the Pengjia Islet (彭佳嶼) in the East China Sea and the Dongsha Islands (Pratas Islands, 東沙群島) in the South China Sea. The Ministry of National Defense is studying those currently in service in the U.S., Singapore, and the Philippines, reported Up Media.

In order for dirigibles to be deployed around Pengjia Islet, which lies to the north of Taiwan, they must be able to remain aloft for 15 days, with a surveillance range of 200 kilometers. In the Dongsha Islands to the southwest, the aerostats are expected to hover in the skies for one month, carry equipment weighing up to 1,600 kilograms, and have a surveillance range of 600 km.

The airships could serve to complement the military's reconnaissance system by providing early warnings to allow for a swift response to threats.

The proposal comes at a time when Chinese warplanes are menacing Taiwan's airspace on a regular basis, with at least eight sightings recorded over the past two weeks. The provocative maneuvers have intensified since the coronavirus pandemic began, with one coinciding with an unusual flyover by a U.S. military aircraft earlier this month.

The Dongsha Islands are a group of strategically important atolls 310 km southeast of Hong Kong and are reportedly a target of PLA drills set to take place in August. The Taiwan Marine Corps has been reassigned to the islands for training and defense.