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Airbase Overview

Taiwan is reported to have a total of 36 airfields with paved runways, and of these at least 26 have runways longer than the minimum of about 5,000 feet that would be required to support combat aircraft. Of these, five are highway strips longer than 8,000 feet, that could be used as expedient dispersal airstrips (Mirage fighter jets have been known to land, refuel and take off from these highway strips during training exercises). Although there is no single open source profile of Taiwan's airfield infrastructure, it is possible to replicate these estimates. Various open source authorities attest to somewhat over 40 airfields and kindred aviation related facilities, although it is almost certainly the case that at least some of these entities are navigation beacons with no associated runway.

      LENGTH            Airfield  Airstrip   TOTAL*     IDENTIFIED
                        [paved]   [unpaved]
        over 10,000 ft:     8                  8             8
    8,000 to 10,000 ft:    12                 12             9
    5,000 to  8,000 ft:     6        1         7             6
    3,000 to  5,000 ft:     6                  6             7 
        under 3,000 ft:     4        2         6             0 
    UNKOWN                                                   7 
    UNKOWN - probable NAVAID                                 6
    TOTAL                  36        3        39            43 
    * SOURCE: CIA World Factbook

Runways are attractive targets for enemy aircraft to take out. A bomb is dropped on a runway, which creates a large crater putting the runway out of commission. If aircraft can't get off the ground, then they can't fight. Rapid runway repair is a long, tedious process that is vital to success on the battlefield and in the skies. The main focus in airfield repair is the Minimum Operating Strip (MOS), which the United States doctrinally defines as 15 by 1,525 square meters for fighter aircraft and 26 by 2,134 square meters for cargo aircraft.

Coalition attacks on runways complicated Iraqi air base operations, but there is little evidence that they hampered sortie rates. Iraqi runways were reportedly repaired in as little as four to six hours. Under ideal conditions with a motivated crew, the rapid runway repair task would take a minimum of about four hours. If reasonable allowances are made for the cold weather impacts on both the soldiers and equipment used for a snowy, windy 20F day, the time is increased to about seven hours. In the Arab-Israeli war of October 1973, Arab repair teams typically restored damaged runways in nine to twelve hours. [source]

Taiwan's Ministry of Defense estimates that a Chinese M-family missile with a 500-kg warhead would create a crater 10 meters in depth and 20 meters in width after hitting the ground, and that it could take as many as 50 missiles to destroy a military airport. According to a RAND Corporation analysis, a 500-kg M-9 ballistic-missile warhead covers almost eight times the area when using a submunition warhead than when using a unitary warhead. The combination of increased accuracy from GPS guidance and increased warhead efficiency decreases the number of missiles required to attack airbases from hundreds to dozens.

Although more detailed modeling might produce somewhat different results, these rough order of magnitude estimates suggest that China's existing inventory of a few hundred M-9 and M-11 missiles could inflict only modest damage on Taiwan's Air Force, if steps were taken to disperse aircraft prior to an attack. It is reported that China is expected to field as many as 600 M-9 and M-11 missiles by the year 2005, roughly triple the year 2000 force. Even this substantially augmented missile arsenal would appear inadequate to the task of gaining decisive air superiority through airfield attacks.

The Air Force began construction work on a base to house a long-range early warning radar system in 2004 worth US$44 million.

The annual Han Kuang exercises, Taiwan's most important war games, test the combat capabilities of the Air Force, Navy and Army in the face of a continued military threat from China. The military held its annual Han Kuang series of exercises in September 2014, including a drill to practice emergency takeoffs and landings of fighter jets on a freeway. The drill was set for 16 September 2014 on the Minxiong section of the No. 1 National Freeway, which passes through the southern county of Chiayi. It is one of four sections of that freeway designated as emergency runways in the event of war.

Aircraft models used in the drill included the F-16 A/B, Mirage 2000-5, and Indigenous Defensive Fighter, as well as the E-2K airborne early warning aircraft, a CH-47 helicopter, a OH-58D reconnaissance helicopter and two AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters. The Air Force's Combat Readiness Training Division drill simulated an attack from China that destroys Taiwan's air force bases, leaving the military to rely on the freeway for emergency takeoffs and landings. It also tested the military's ability to conduct refueling and resupplying operations in times of war.

In order to conduct the drill, the section between the Chiayi and Dalin exits of the freeway were closed for 11 hours beginning at midnight on 16 September. The drill was part of the second stage of the "Han Kuang 30," scheduled for Sept. 15-19. It followed computer-aided war games this past May. In previous Han Kuang exercises, similar drills have been held on the Madou and Rende sections of the No. 1 Freeway in Tainan, and the Huatan section in Changhua. There is also an area on the Jiadong section of Provincial Highway 1 designated for the same purpose.

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