TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Taiwanese Army had intended to use Taitung’s Feng Nien Airport as a helicopter training base for its Aviation and Special Forces Command, but the plan has met with strong backlash from local authorities, putting the nation’s future defense plans for the east coast on hold.
The military emphasized Sunday (July 19) that it has chosen to establish a training base at Feng Nien Airport because it meets the needs for wartime missions and disaster prevention in the east; it also alleviates a saturation of training airspace along the west coast. Officials said in private that once the airport is renovated, training helicopters — mostly consisting of Apaches — can be serviced locally, and pilots can be more familiar with the terrain of eastern Taiwan, which will strengthen combat operations, Liberty Times reported.
In 2018, Army Command Headquarters established a budget for 2019 that included the five-year Army Aviation Feng Nien Base Facilities Construction Project, costing a total of more than NT$930 million (US$32 million).
However, in the first year, the budget was frozen by the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee of the Legislative Yuan. DPP Taitung County Legislator Liu Chao-hao (劉櫂豪) expressed concern last May that this renovated base project and subsequent troop rotation may not only add to noise pollution and affect the movement of local residents but also possibly interrupt Taitung’s hot air balloon activities.
It is understood that only a small number of personnel from the Aviation and Special Forces Command will be permanently stationed at the airport. The rest of the west coast-based troops will be dispatched to the eastern airport on a rotational basis; each rotation group will number around 150 men and less than 15 rotorcraft.
The military did not comment much on how local community protests will impact future defense plans, only that it has relevant measures to respond and adjust to public concerns.
Chen Kuo-ming (陳國銘), military expert and creator of the Defense International Magazine, assessed that Taiwan previously assumed China would launch a landing operation on the west coast. However, if the Army lacks sea and air superiority, it must then rely on its own strength to counterattack — in which case Army helicopters would be the key anti-beach landing combat force other than infantry and artillery.
China’s amphibious capability continues to grow, launching one amphibious assault ship after another. Even though the possibility of landing from eastern Taiwan is still low, the Chinese military already has relevant capabilities to do so, Chen stated.
Chen said that the Army still needs to build a hangar and other helicopter hardware facilities at Feng Nien Airport. Therefore, the military should encourage more dialogue with the local government and propose alternative solutions.
For example, during peacetime, flights could be scheduled to take into account both the needs of national defense and the quality of life for residents, he suggested.