Back to list

Military to check under-performing Sparrow missiles

2011/01/18 22:45:41

Taipei, Jan. 18 (CNA) Following a poor showing by six missiles ina test firing Tuesday, three of which were U.S.-made Sparrows, theMinistry of National Defense (MND) said it will check each and everyone of the remaining missiles to find out what went wrong.

MND spokesman Yu Sy-tue said 11 of the 15 scenarios tested atsouthern Taiwan's Jiupeng military base had successful outcomes.

"The 73.3 percent success rate was within the MND's target rangeof between 70 percent and 95 percent -- but barely a passing grade, "Yu said.

But President Ma Ying-jeou, who witnessed the military drill,said he was "not quite satisfied" with the results and demanded areview.

A total of 19 missiles with different ranges were fired, six ofwhich missed their targets, translating into a 68 percent hit rate.

Three out of the six that failed to hit the targets wereSparrows, which have a poorer record than some other types ofmissiles.

In a 2006 exercise, there were incidents of Sparrows falling intothe sea before reaching their targets.

Defense officials attributed the problem to incomplete combustionof its rocket propellant, early detonation of the fuse, and failureto explode upon reaching the target.

Pan Kung-hsiao, director of the Air Force Command's Department ofPolitical Affairs, said the target drone's signal might have been toblame for the three Sparrows' poor performance and that the MND willtry to contact the U.S. manufacturer.

A defense expert said the military might also have purposely usedold and nearly dysfunctional missiles for the test firing.

Erich Shih, editor of Defense International magazine, saidTuesday's test scenarios were not based on normal simulated warsituations.

For instance, Mica and Tien Chien II, mid-range missiles designedfor striking at targets 40-50 km away, were used as short-rangemissiles this time, he said.

Kuomintang Legislator Justin S. Chou, a member of thelegislature's Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, calledthe 68 percent hit rate "disappointing to the point of indignation."

If a military exercise under the watch of the commander-in-chiefof the armed forces should turn in such a lousy score, there must bemany other problems unknown to the public plaguing the country'sdefense system, according to Chou.

Tsai Huang-liang, a legislator of the opposition DemocraticProgressive Party (DPP), expressed a similar level of disgruntlementover the missile tests.

"If things keep developing this way, how can our troops fight ina war?" Tsai said.

Shuai Hua-ming, a retired general-turned-KMT lawmaker, was moresympathetic.

He said the defense authorities should of course be called toaccount if the cause of Tuesday's problem was poor maintenance of theweapons system. However, if the problem was caused by a shortage ofmilitary budget, then the cure lies with increasing the MND's budget.

Shih seemed to agree, saying that "maintaining high-tech weaponscalls for special expertise. Dwindling defense budgets have begun toaffect the missiles' maintenance fees."

(By Emmanuelle Tzeng, Chou Yung-chieh, Kelven Huang, Justin Su
and S.C. Chang)