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Chinese spy ships appear as Taiwan prepares missile tests

Missile launches believed to involve Thunderbolt-2000, Sky Bow III weapons systems

China's Yuncheng missile frigate pictured in the Netherlands in 2015. (Wikicommons, Kees Torn photo) 

China's Yuncheng missile frigate pictured in the Netherlands in 2015. (Wikicommons, Kees Torn photo) 

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Chinese naval ships recently appeared near Taitung County’s Orchid Island as Taiwan prepares for several rounds of missile tests off its southeast coast, reports said Wednesday (April 7).

Cross-strait tensions remain high as the communist country continues to send military aircraft into the southwestern region of Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on an almost daily basis.

On Tuesday morning (April 6), the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) guided-missile frigate the Yuncheng was spotted 70 nautical miles (129.6 kilometers) east of Orchid Island moving north to avoid being tracked by Taiwan's military, CNA reported.

At 5 a.m. Wednesday, a Chinese electronic reconnaissance ship made its first appearance of the year 36 nautical miles southwest of the same island but was detected moving south, according to military sources.

The sightings might be connected to the fact that missile tests were announced in southeastern Taiwan for April 7-9. The National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) issued warnings that it would hold two rounds of launches in an area between the Jiupeng Air Force Base in Pingtung County, Orchid Island, and Green Island.

While the NCSIST did not provide further details, analysts believe the weapon involved is an extended-range version of the Thunderbolt-2000 rocket system.

Meanwhile, three rounds of firings are scheduled for April 13-16, including one between 5 and 7 a.m. As the test area for this trial covers a 200-km stretch of water from the Jiupeng base to Orchid Island and off the coast of Hualien County, the missile in question is most likely the extended-range version of the Sky Bow III (TK-3) surface-to-air missile.

The military is also likely to deploy its Albatross unmanned aerial vehicles to analyze the performance of the missiles, CNA reported.