President Ma Ying-jeou inspects the Leshan Radar Station on September 24, 2009. (Photo/CNA)
After Taiwan spent more than US$1.3 billion to purchase a AN/FPS-115 PAVE PAWS radar system from the United States, Asia-Pacific Defense magazine based in Taipei is asking whether this investment really helps the country defend itself against China's missile threat.
Developed by Raytheon, the PAVE PAWS is used primarily to detect and track submarine-launched ballistic missiles and intercontinental ballistic missile. Under Obama's "Asia Pivot" strategy, there are currently five AN/FPS-115 PAVE PAWS radar systems in the Asia-Pacific. One of these is operated by the Republic of China Air Force at Leshan near Hsinchu in northern Taiwan. This radar system was introduced to Taiwan in 2006 because it is able to provide a six-minute warning of incoming PLA missiles.
Asia-Pacific Defense said it was unnecessary for Taiwan to buy this system because the direct threat to national security comes from the short-range missiles deployed along China's eastern coast. The magazine said the real value of the PAVE PAWS in Taiwan is actually to guide US stealth fighters in missions against PLA intercontinental missiles.
When US stealth fighters and bombers have operated over smaller countries like the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya, they were able to prevent detection because they could find their targets without turning on their own radar. But if they were to fly over much larger countries like China, they would be required to use their radar to find their targets, rendering them detectable by PLA air defenses.
For this reason, the United States must have PAVE PAWS deployed to Taiwan if it is to guide stealth fighters such as the F-22 and F-35 on sorties against missile sites in China's interior. However, the Taiwanese government is the one to pay for the deployment of this advanced radar system. In addition to the US$1.3 billion Taiwan paid to purchase the PAVE PAWS, the ROC Air Force spends another US$23 million to keep the radar system running.
Since the price to operate one radar system in northern Taiwan is expensive enough, the defense ministry decided to cancel plans to introduce a second PAVE PAWS to the south of the country. While Taiwan enhances its economic ties with mainland China, President Ma Ying-jeou is still seeking advanced weapons systems from the United States to strengthen the country's defense capability.
While Ma is attacked by critics at home for being too friendly to China, a commentary published by the nationalistic Chinese tabloid Global Times on July 30 proved the truth of "damned-if-you-do" by accusing Ma of hostility toward Beijing. The commentary said the United States is the only nation to truly have benefited from its arms deals to Taiwan. In a statement that may carry an uncomfortable ring of truth in Taiwan, Global Times said the US does not give Taiwan the right to choose what kind of weapons it really needs.