TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Amid dramatically more frequent incursions by Chinese military planes into Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ), China appears to be expanding its two airbases closest to Taiwan.
Google Earth images of the two closest People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) bases in Fujian Province show evidence of massive expansions. The bases in question, Longtian Airbase and Huian Airbase, sit 170 kilometers and 190 km away, respectively, enabling Chinese aircraft to reach Taipei within seven minutes.
Satellite images show that the runways at both facilities have been renovated and enlarged. The airports can serve as transit hubs as well as bases to shelter bombers in times of war.
In an apparent response to the PLA's construction on its bases, Taiwan's military late last year began an extensive review of its defensive combat readiness in various zones and readjusted firepower concentrations on the Tamsui River. Recently, members of the public have sighted Avenger Air Defense System (AN/TWQ-1) vehicles at the entrance of the Tamsui River estuary.
Institute of National Defense and Security Research senior analyst Su Tzu-yun (蘇紫雲) was cited by UDN as saying that the expansion of the Longtian and Huian airbases follows the typical pattern of PLAAF bases, which mainly consist of a primary runway and a parallel taxiway.
Photo showing extensive work on Longtian Airbase. (Google Earth image)
When the main runway is damaged in battle, the parallel taxiway can serve as a backup runway. The projects also appear to have included an extension of the runway and airport apron.
Lieutenant General Chang Yen-ting (張延廷), a retired Taiwan Air Force deputy commander, told the news agency that the Longtian and Huian bases are very close to Taiwan. He said fighter jets launched from those airfields can reach Taipei within about seven minutes after takeoff.
He said there is great tactical value in having the bases positioned where they are because they can save time, fuel, and manpower. Chang pointed out that these bases are also vulnerable to counterattacks from Taiwanese forces, reducing their value in the event of a war.
However, he said that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) currently views them as a useful means to intimidate Taiwan. The CCP believes the bases serve as important visual symbols, he said.
New work on Huian Airbase (left) base as it appeared before construction (right). (Google Earth images)
In terms of political strategy, Chang asserted that the CCP is reorganizing its bases to achieve its goal of "unifying" with Taiwan. He said China is banking on its ability to "subdue the enemy without fighting" and thinks that the bases will have greater military and political value in the future.
According to Chang, it was because of the sudden expansion of these bases that Taiwan's Chief of the General Staff Huang Shu-kuang (黃曙光) last year ordered the military to conduct a detailed review of the formation, strength, and tactical position of air defense forces in each combat zone.
He called for radar and weapons to be deployed outside of bases to increase their effectiveness and lower their vulnerability. Huang also called for the armed forces to be more closely integrated to monitor Taiwan's air and maritime space.
Recently, Hawk missile batteries in Tamsui have been augmented by the AN/TWQ-1 vehicles. In addition, the Air Force is planning to carry out live-fire exercises on Penghu, including the firing of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles from Army Apache helicopters.