- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2001

TAICHUNG, Taiwan — Pilots at CCK air base here know a simple truth about any conflict with communist China: They are ground zero for the first wave of short-range ballistic missiles now being built up about 100 miles away across the Taiwan Strait.
"Nobody can be fully prepared for war," said Republic of China Maj. Dilon Hong, a fighter pilot pulling a stint on the base's 24-hour combat alert. "But we can do our best to try to defend our people and our country."
Ching Chuan Kang air base, known as CCK, is the largest air force base on this island of 23 million people. It was built by the U.S. Strategic Air Command in the 1960s and used by B-52s for bombing runs during the Vietnam War. At one time, CCK was home to scores of U.S. strategic nuclear weapons, which were withdrawn after the United States broke its defense alliance with the Republic of China in 1979.
Dressed in a flight suit, Maj. Hong, 31, waits with his wingman in a small concrete room located in the middle of a hanger housing four Indigenous Defense Fighters, or IDFs, as they are called.
A red telephone is the "hot line" from the underground control center located nearby. If the phone rings with orders to take off, the pilots must be ready to scramble their fighters in five minutes' time to meet any Chinese jets that fly too close to the demarcation line running down the middle of the 100-mile strait.
"I love my job," said the major, a Virginia Military Institute graduate. "I get to fly in the sky."
So far, the major has not been called out to intercept a Chinese F-8 or Su-27 jet. But others in his squadron have. For months last year, Taiwanese and Chinese jets flew at each other along the demarcation line on an almost daily basis.
The Chinese were angered by statements from past President Lee Teng-hui that ties between the mainland and island should be carried out on a state-to-state basis. Beijing views Taiwan as a breakaway province and has vowed to use force if needed to reunite it to the mainland.
Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, wants no reunification as long as the mainland is ruled by communist dictators.
Lt. Col. Eddie Chung, a pilot in charge of testing and evaluation at the base, said his unit regularly conducts "threat analysis" of the capabilities of the Chinese jets that Taiwan's pilots would encounter.
Right now, Chinese air-to-air missiles have limited homing capabilities but mainland fighters are expected to deploy more advanced "active" guided missiles in the future, Col. Chung said.
"We need some upgrades," Col. Chung said, noting that the weapons systems purchased from the United States, such as F-16s purchased in the early 1990s, are the least-capable versions of that plane.
Brig. Gen. Peng Chin-ming, commander of the fighter wing based here, knows the base is vulnerable. He wants the Defense Ministry in Taipei to buy the latest U.S. anti-missile system the Patriot PAC-3.
With a missile force of about 300 Chinese short-range ballistic missiles facing his base in Fujian province across the Taiwan Strait, the one-star general knows his base is a target.
Gen. Peng said missile defenses are not 100 percent effective against attack but they are needed.
"We need assistance for 100 percent protection," he said in an interview. "Our joint staff is working on the problem."
According to military officials here, China's military has constructed a replica of CCK at a military facility near the central Chinese city of Lanzhou. The Chinese use the model for practice attacks on Taiwan.
Gen. Peng said the practice attacks on the model CCK "are a good lesson for us."
"We know that they have the ability to make an attack on us," he said. "It tells us we need good air defenses."
If China ever decides to use force against Taiwan, as it repeatedly has threatened, CCK is a prime strategic target. Its aircraft would be destroyed in early strikes with the goal of seizing the base and using it as a staging area for troop transports. The base is located about five miles inland from the coast.
It is one of four bases located along the flat western section of Taiwan.
Taiwan also maintains a secret air base on the mountainous east coast that is built into the side of a mountain and the U.S.-made F-16s stored there fly directly out of a cave entrance. "It's like Battlestar Galactica," said a U.S. defense official who has been there.
The base, called Jia-shan, is located near Hualian on the central east coast of Taiwan and is off-limits to foreign reporters.
Maj. James Wu, a staff officer at the base, said the threat from China's air force is increasing, with Chinese fighters able to reach Taiwan in five to eight minutes.
China's military force "is expanding every day," Maj. Wu said in a briefing.
"Intelligence reports say they are sending more and more engineers and technicians to Russia for training," he said. "They are more of a threat than ever."
Taiwan's air forces are working hard to use their limited military resources "to keep the Taiwan Strait free from any invasion," Maj. Wu said.
The Russians in recent years have supplied China's air force with Su-27 fighter-bombers and were reported last week to have signed a contract to provide Beijing with as many as 38 of the more advanced Su-30s.
Asked about the military posture facing his base, Gen. Peng said: "The threat from the is clearly there. We are prepared to fight and counter any threats from the PRC."
But he pointed out: "Our principle is not to provoke this threat."

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