The Taiwanese military accidentally let slip a secret—and it hints at how Taipei plans to defend against China’s most high-tech warplanes in the event of war across the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan’s state-run Youth Daily News this week published photos depicting a Republic of China Navy landing craft disembarking, at a port in the Penghu island group, a secretive truck-mounted radar system—one that Taiwanese industry apparently has optimized for detecting Chinese J-20 stealth fighters.
The photos quickly disappeared from Youth Daily News’ website, but not before the aviation blog Alert Five took screenshots.
“Great catch!” commented Ian Easton, senior director at the Project 2049 Institute think-tank in Virginia. “For Taiwan to have deployed a mobile truck-mounted radar capable of tracking stealth aircraft to the Penghus is a big deal.”
The pics appear to depict a modified version of a passive radar system that the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology developed for the ROC armed forces.
The mobile radar doesn’t emit radiation. Instead, it detects reflected radar signals originating from separate emitters. Since it doesn’t emit on its own, a passive radar can be difficult to locate. And if enemy planners don’t know a radar is in the area, they might not know to plot courses for low-observable warplanes that minimize their electromagnetic signature.
In other words, a passive radar can help lay traps for radar-evading planes. That Taiwan apparently has staged its new passive radar on the Penghus is a strong indication that that Taipei is thinking ahead about how it can get the jump on Beijing’s J-20s, which so far are the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s only stealth jets.
“That radar could greatly improve early-warning,” Easton said.
The Penghus are an archipelago of 90 islets that lies 30 miles from Taiwan’s main island. It’s one of the biggest obstacles confronting a possible Chinese invasion fleet.
Taiwanese forces on the archipelago operate a long-range radar plus Hsiung Feng II anti-ship cruise missiles and Sky Bow III surface-to-air missiles. The 60,000-strong permanent garrison includes an army brigade with 70 upgraded M-60 tanks and an artillery battalion.
The Taiwanese navy routinely deploys a missile destroyer in nearby waters. The air force practices staging nimble Indigenous Defense Fighters at the archipelago’s airport.
It makes sense also to deploy a passive radar to the island group. It’s increasingly apparent that the Chinese air force plans to deploy its small-but-growing fleet of twin-engine J-20s in the early hours of a conflict in order to poke holes in Taiwanese defenses—in the air and on the ground—and allow non-stealthy warplanes to operate more freely.
A passive radar hiding out somewhere on the Penghus could provide troops on Taiwan proper advance warning of approaching J-20s—perhaps giving air-defense batteries and fighters squadrons a chance at shooting down the stealthy planes.
“Without these types of eyes and ears, the Chinese Communist Party could opt to hit Taiwan’s political and military leadership with a zero-warning decapitation strike,” Easton explained. “That’s one of the most dangerous threats facing the country’s survival. So the more early-warning sensors Taiwan deploys, the safer it will be.”