- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2001

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The army test-fired U.S. Patriot missiles yesterday, and TV footage showed one arching through the sky in a display of the island´s best defense against a Chinese rocket attack.

The tests reportedly knocked down two airborne targets — a dummy missile and a dummy airplane — and officials here say they were conducted with Washington´s blessing.

They were seen locally as a show of U.S. support at a time when Taiwan is heartened by the belief President Bush is more accommodating than his predecessor, Bill Clinton.

But analysts warned it will take more than a successful test to show Taiwan can withstand a barrage of the Chinese missiles that some view as the greatest military threat to Taiwan.

Local media reported U.S. military personnel and contractors were to be at the test site, though Taiwan´s military refused to discuss this or reveal many details about the missile firings.

Many ordinary people were less than awed by Taiwan´s latest show of weaponry, which citizens here hope will never be put to the test of war.

"Economic development may be more important than missiles," said businessman Paul Hsu in the capital, Taipei. "I don´t feel safer now. The test-firing may be seen as provocative."

Taiwan insisted it wasn´t trying to provoke China, which claims Taiwan as a renegade province and has threatened to retake the island by force if necessary.

But the Patriots were fired as China was conducting massive war games in the region, including the mock invasion of a Taiwanese island. Taiwanese military officials called the timing coincidental.

The army sought to play down the Patriot test, at least in comparison to other live-fire military exercises that frequently are turned into major media events.

Instead of inviting reporters to the scene, the army distributed three photos, two showing launchings and one showing a fireball created as a missile hit its target.

Analysts said Taiwan had shown little more than its ability to successfully fire the Patriots.

Taiwan still needs long-range radar and facilities to receive missile information from spy satellites, said Shih Hsiao-wei, who edits the monthly Defense International.

"As it is now, we are hard pressed on warning time to knock down a missile," Mr. Shih said.

Still, Taiwan´s army said the Patriot missiles, fired from the Chiu-Peng base in southern Pingtung, all hit their targets in "one of the major drills to test our air defense capability."

The army did not specify in its brief statement how many missiles were fired or how many targets were hit.

The official Central News Agency, quoting a military source it did not identify, said three missiles were launched and two targets went down — a dummy missile and a dummy aircraft.

Analysts said the other missile likely was fired first to track the target missile and transmit data back to the base so a second Patriot could hit it. That would fit with the design of the U.S.-made system that shoots down incoming missiles.

Taiwan has purchased from the United States 200 Patriot missiles, an improved version of the weapons that gained notoriety for missing their targets in the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

They have been deployed around Taipei. The tests yesterday marked the first time the missiles had been fired from Taiwanese soil.

The China Times Express quoted unidentified military officials as saying they hoped Washington would further support Taiwan by allowing the island access to U.S. satellite information.

Washington does not have formal ties with Taiwan, but has said it is committed to selling the island weapons for its defense.

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